Friday, November 30, 2007

Livia Washburn on Writing and Research

Murder by the Slice
Livia J. Washburn
Publisher: NAL/Obsidian
Pub date: October 2007
Agent: Kim Lionetti

(Click to Buy)

I have had the privilege of being a professional writer for over twenty years. I live in a small Texas town with my husband, James Reasoner, and two daughters.

Awards: American Mystery Award and Shamus Award, both for Wild Night

Author Web site:

Murder by the Slice is the second book in the Fresh-Baked Mystery series. Retired schoolteacher Phyllis Newsom and her friends once again enter a baking contest and encounter a murder, this time at an elementary school carnival.

One of the things I really enjoy about the writing process is the research involved. There’s a lot of truth to the old adage about writing what you know—or what you can find out. For example, the novels in my Fresh-Baked Mystery series are set in Weatherford, Texas. While I don’t live in Weatherford, it’s nearby and I’ve been there many times and know the town well. It’s close enough so that if there’s something I don’t know, I can drive over and investigate it. The first book in the series, A Peach of a Murder, centers around Weatherford’s annual Peach Festival. I was able to attend the Peach Festival before I wrote the book. While I took a few dramatic liberties (this is fiction, after all), my descriptions of the festival itself are fairly accurate.

For the second book in the series, the recently released Murder by the Slice, my research drew heavily on personal experience. For several years, my husband and I were very involved in the Parent-Teacher Organizations at our children’s schools. We helped out with the elementary school carnivals, and we served as members of the PTO board. When I had an elementary school carnival play a prominent part in Murder by the Slice, I knew how such things worked and I also knew about the inner workings of a PTO board. (Although I should hasten to point out that none of the characters in Murder by the Slice are based in any way on any of the wonderful ladies who served with me on various boards! Fiction, total fiction!)

In an upcoming book in the series, my characters will get out of Weatherford for a change and travel to the Gulf Coast of Texas, where they will take part in a dessert competition at the annual SeaFair in Rockport, Texas. The SeaFair is a real event and has been going on every autumn for years, but this is the first year for the Just Desserts competition. When I read about it I knew this would make a perfect background for a mystery novel. My husband and I not only attended the SeaFair and Just Desserts—and got to sample all the entries!—we also spent several weeks in the Rockport area, getting to know it better. We had been there before, but a place tends to look different when you’re researching it as the setting for a novel. You have to find just the perfect spot for your murder to happen, and once you’ve settled on that, it opens up all sorts of exciting questions that have to be worked out for the plot, such as “Who’s the victim?” “Why was he or she killed?” and the all-important “Who’s the killer?” The setting can be a vital part of the answers to all of these questions and more, so it helps to be as familiar as possible with it.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that all the expenses incurred in a research trip are tax-deductible, however. Day-to-day living expenses aren’t, even if you’re in a different place and there only to do research. Only expenses pertaining directly to the trip are deductible.

Of course, it’s possible to do a great deal of research in libraries and online, too, and I certainly do my share of that. It’s not unusual for me to have stacks of research books piled up around my desk as I write (and for the Fresh-Baked Mysteries, that includes recipe books to get ideas from, naturally!). But there’s something special in writing about places that you know, a freshness and authenticity that it’s hard to get any other way. So if you’re an aspiring mystery author, look around. There could be a good place for a murder right there under your nose. . . .

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 9

Holy cow! I’m not even halfway there yet! What have I done?! My fingers are tired, but I’m still having fun. Here’s the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch, and you should be able to link back to all previous critiques if necessary.

49. mark terry
CIA operative Monaco Grace flies to Beijing to investigate the disappearance of undercover agent Peter Lee. Soon after making contact with Lee’s American friend, college professor Alan Richter, they find themselves on the run from assassins intent on retrieving information Lee gave to Richter. Trying to keep herself and Richter alive, Monaco makes a devil’s deal with a Chinese crime organization while attempting to untangle a web of lies and deceit that reaches back to the heights of U.S. government and threatens to topple the balance of world power.

True confession first. I’ve been a little nervous about critiquing Mark’s pitch since I know he worked on it, blogged on it, and has an agent. For so many obvious reasons this might make me a little biased going in. It’s so much easier when you’re anonymous. Of course then I worry you’re a client and I totally didn’t recognize the book ;) So here goes . . .

I don’t love this. Of course, I don’t love this kind of book. I think you are still overcomplicating it. Do we need to even mention the name of Peter Lee or Alan Richter, for that matter? I find that in pitches things tend to get confusing the more people you mention. When you are trying to hook someone with just a few short sentences it’s best to keep the characters to a minimum and the suspense/conflict to a maximum. My major concern though is that this doesn’t jump out at me as something that’s really different from other similar books (of course, I also don’t read a lot of other similar books). How about something more like . . . ”In an attempt to untangle the web of lies that threaten to topple the balance of world power, CIA operative Monaco Grace (LOVE this name) has made a devil’s deal with a Chinese crime organization. Now it’s a race against time while she . . ."? (more specifics here on what exactly might be happening?). This was a hard one for even a pitchmaster like me. I find thrillers to be some of the hardest pitches to write since the plots are often very complicated.

50. phammonds
Maggie Allen, recently pregnant, is abandoned by her college boyfriend in small-town Durban, Alabama. Seven years later, Maggie finds herself back in college and back in love. This time it’s with young college professor, Wade Evans. Confined to a wheelchair, Wade became paralyzed in a motorcycle accident that claimed another man’s life. Perhaps Maggie can learn to trust again from a man who knows much about love and loss.

Snooze. This just doesn’t grab me and it really doesn’t sound any different from any other book. I also see too much information and a lot of disconnects. Does it matter that she was recently pregnant or is she recently pregnant? If the book takes place seven years after the pregnancy, it seems that’s really old news and simply a part of her past. My other question is who is this book about, Maggie or Wade? Is this romance or women’s fiction? It reads like romance, but the story doesn’t sound remarkable enough. I think what I’m getting at is that there must be more to your story than love and loss, because almost all romances and/or women’s fiction are about love and loss. What is the true conflict?

51. bernita
Urban fantasy: A Malignity of Ghosts.
Lillie St. Clair is a full-spectrum, mega-Talent, employed as one of the city's official Freaks to remove unwanted apparitions.
She doesn't do zombies, however; her specialty is ghosts.
But some believe that Lillie's exorcism of the disembodied is genocide, and someone re-animated her dead husband for revenge.
And Lillie isn't sure she can trust her black spectral hound, Dumbarton, or the chatty bean sidhe from the laundromat, or even big, ugly psi-crime detective Johnnie Thresher.
She isn't sure she can trust herself.

You’ve got potential, but you’re trying to be too clever. Your title is first. “Malignity?” This word is too uncommon for a title and immediately detracts. What are you really trying to say? Spitefulness of Ghosts? Then say that. You need to think about your common, everyday reader. If they have to look up a word in the title they will certainly never buy the book. What is the point of the zombie line? It’s obviously part of her shtick, but I don’t think it adds to the pitch. In fact, if anything, it confuses. I think you have a series of one-sentence pitches, but nothing connects. What’s Lillie’s true conflict? The reanimation of her husband or the belief that what she’s doing is genocide? Why does she need to trust her dog, the sidhe, or even herself?

52. heidi
Caroline Hayes installs gutters on a house that sees only two inches of rain a year, bubble-wraps her CDs so they won’t get scratched, and scotch-guards her car seats religiously every six months, but the one thing she values most she can’t protect. When a drunk driver careens around a curve on California’s coastal highway, Caroline’s life as she knew it is ripped apart. The secret she’s kept from her husband about that night tear at the seams of their relationship, and she finds herself turning to a stranger who is keeping secrets of his own. Little does she know how deeply her life is intertwined with the drunken woman who died beside her, who left her with scars that would not heal, and a gift beyond anything she could fathom. My novel Ocean Deep delves into the murky waters of secrets, lies, and the ties that bind people together.

LOVE this! Wow. What a great pitch. I see who Caroline is and I clearly see her conflict. This one gives me chills and I would definitely request based on this. In fact, this pitch is so strong it has the potential to get full requests right off the bat. This is the type of pitch that has editors and agents at conferences talking. It also has a great title. I even think the very vague last line works. Why? Because you had very specific opening sentences prior to that. Well done!

53. belinda (worderella)
Tagline for Trentwood's Orphan:
A grieving daughter encounters love and ghosts in Victorian England.
Paragraph: Eight years ago, Mary and her father, Lord Trentwood, were in a riding accident that left him paralyzed. Two years ago, Trentwood died, making Mary promise to go to London and make amends with her guilt. Two minutes ago, Mary broke her engagement to Mr Spencer, and Trentwood isn't going to let her just walk away without an argument.

I’m confused. I assume by the tagline that Trentwood is a ghost, but that isn’t made clear in your actual pitch. I also don’t get the guilt aspect. I think we need to see what is really happening. Don’t try to be too clever here, just get to the point. Does Trentwood’s paralysis have anything to do with the story or Mary’s conflict? If not, delete it. What happens to Mary in London and why can’t she walk away from her engagement? What is Mary’s real conflict, because we don’t see that at all.

54. picks by pat
A pair of FBI agents must hunt down an internet sex predator, not to arrest him, but to arrest his intended victim. A trail of murdered pedophiles leads the FBI to conclude that one young girl is seeking revenge for past abuse by allowing herself to be picked up and then icing her much older suitors.
It's hard to care about her victims, but the latest one just happened to be a close friend of the President, and the sooner this girl is caught (and silenced) the easier for the president's re-election campaign.

I like this concept a lot, until you get to the part about the president. That seems to be pushing the limits for me. If a young girl is killing off pedophiles she’s a serial killer. That alone would put the FBI on the case and it would have nothing to do with the president. Once you throw the president in there you add a level of disbelief for me that makes it sound a little sillier than I would like. However, what a great premise—FBI agents (we should have some sense of who they are if they are the protagonists) hunting a killer they don’t really care if they find. The real challenge for the writer here is that something has to be done so that the reader cares. Books that hunt killers mean that we have to somehow care for the victims or potential victim. It doesn’t sound like anyone here is likable.

55. elizabeth bemis
Holiday – Romantic Suspense WIP
MEGAN MILLER is on her honeymoon (sans groom) in an effort to get over the louse who dumped her days before her wedding. In the past two days, she’s met a guy who isn’t what he seems, been shot at, jumped overboard into (potentially) shark infested waters and stranded in the Mayan jungle with nothing but the clothes on her back and a copy of the Girls’ Guide to Hero-Hunting and an undercover FBI Agent named REY RODRIGUEZ. So far, she’s ignored the book’s every piece of advice, and yet, Rey is proving time and again to be her hero. The question is: will he still be her hero, after their holiday is over?

This is familiar. Must be a do-over. This is fine, but nothing special. Most important, though, the pitch reads like a chick lit/romantic comedy and yet you are calling it suspense. Where’s the suspense? What is she really up against and what is her conflict? It seems her biggest concern is the Girls’ Guide to Hero-Hunting and not that someone might be out to kill her.

Some good ones here. Some I really got excited about. Great work, everyone. And now to the readers and your feedback. . . .


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 8

Yes, it seems that I’ve decided to critique all of these. I’m insane, I know, but there were some good pitches in there, I’m enjoying myself, and I think you all deserve something. So I’ll keep going until I can go no more. Note that you can continue adding pitches in the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch, until I let you know you should stop (I’ll place a comment to tell you that as well as try to do a post). Pitches placed in the comments of critiques will not be critiqued.

43. heather b. moore
QUEEN (thriller)
An ancient legend reborn.
For centuries, historians have theorized the Queen of Sheba is only a seductive legend. When OMAR ZAGOURI, an undercover Israeli agent, stumbles onto a tomb in Northern Jerusalem, he unknowingly finds the final clue that could overthrow governments, pit wealthy collectors against one another, and send ruthless archaeologists scrambling to find the queen’s secret burial place. Can Omar prevent the greatest discovery of the century from becoming the most deadly, or will he himself be buried with the very mummies he unearthed?

Mmmm. Interesting. I like this. I think it sounds very interesting and I’m close to asking to see more. My only thought is why is this the greatest discovery and how will it become deadly? And why will Omar be buried? In other words, don’t leave us hanging quite like that. Give it to us! Keep the first up until, “that could overthrow governments.” Why not say something like, “he finds the final clue of the Queen’s life. A discovery that has the power to overthrow governments (why?). Now Omar’s greatest discovery might also be his last. With ruthless collectors tracking him down it’s up to Omar to put all of his work ethics aside and hide the one thing he has spent his life seeking...”? Okay, that’s still too vague. You know, it’s hard to rewrite your pitches without having you here to tell me more. What you need to do is be more specific.

44. anon 1:08
When Anne realizes the world’s emotions are reined by another, darker set of beings and that she is part of it, she has to do a lot more than overcome selfishness…or put up with children with a certain knack for mischief, to stay alive.

Trying to fit too much in without giving us anything. I’m intrigued by the fact that “the world’s emotions are reined (controlled a better word?) by another...,” but I need a better idea of what that means. I also suspect that your last line about putting up with children is a hint to the fact that Anne is probably a mom or teacher? That doesn’t seem important to your pitch. If it is, you’ll need to be more specific since it really threw me. What you need to focus on is the emotions aspect, the darker beings and why Anne is involved and why she needs to do something about it.

45. josephine damian
Everyone believes criminal profiler Caroline Armstrong is a European woman with the quintessential American name. She’s afraid that her ex-lover, forensic psychologist Rhys Garrison, will find out she’s really Nina Gorić, a Bosnian war crimes victim turned assassin who killed so her unborn child could survive. When the two profilers reunite to uncover a sadistic serial killer’s identity, old flames rekindle along with new fears when Rhys suspects Caroline’s violent past and secret identity.

Inside scoop here. Anything doing with a criminal profiler or other such things always gets my attention personally. LOVE THIS! Really, really love this. You tell me who she is and how she is haunted. You tell me what she’s up against now and you grab my attention with a very unique twist on an old but always successful story. I would definitely ask to see this (and of course hope you’d send it).

46. jduncan
Just a thought here. Why not pick a 'winner' here, when all is said and done, amongst the pitches that are within the purview of genres you rep, and let them get to send a partial? Just a thought of course.

Well, this seems like a silly pitch ;) Good question. I think instead of asking to see a winner I'm going to say that all of you are of course welcome to later query BookEnds if you think I'd be the right agent for your work. I chose not to do a contest because I really hate judging contests. Instead I want to give feedback to everyone, if possible, to help improve pitches. Those I remark on that I love and would ask for, I mean it. If you aren't already agented I'd love to see a partial based on your pitch. That doesn't mean I wouldn't want to see any of the other works, it just means you should work on your pitch first.

47. zany mom
Ethan Burke has it all--Adonis good looks, a promising career as a veterinary surgeon, a beautiful girlfriend, and a cocky arrogance that lands him a mistress--until a freak mountain biking accident shatters it all. Ethan must now come to terms with his physical limitations. His perspective on life gradually shifts when, in the hospital, he is befriended by an unlikely hero: a five-year-old boy with leukemia.

It sounds too internal to me, and not different enough. I like your first sentence a lot, but now we need to know more about the conflict besides his physical limitations. I also think we need to make sure we get a sense for Ethan. I would assume based on the first sentence that he’s a jerk, but what happens next? Does everything leave him (girlfriend included)? What is the real conflict in this story that makes it stand out from other similar tales (because there are other similar tales)? And what is the tone? Your opening makes it sound light and very genre or commercial, but the plot doesn’t seem to fit that. The plot sounds more serious. More like women’s fiction. I should get a sense of the tone through your pitch. Not easy, I know, but if your opening is great but doesn’t match the tone of the book, it’s not effective.

48. mrs. Revis
There is a perfect good reason for sixteen year old Chloe to be in the middle of the street, crying, and naked. You would be to if you (but not your clothes) were plopped into a world where monsters are real and indoor plumbing isn't.

The knight in shining armor Chloe thought would save her turns out to be a berserker who tends to go mad with bloodlust at the most inconvenient times. The knight, Heath, is on a quest to save a kidnapped princess and defeat an evil tyrant. After Chloe joins Heath, she learns that the enemy Heath is fighting is linked to her own brother. In THE RED THREAD, Chloe must figure out how she can save her brother, even if he doesn't want to be saved, and how far she is willing to go for the knight she's falling in love with...even if he doesn't love her back.

Too long and a little messy. It’s definitely a case of trying to be too clever and give too much information all at the same time. I’m not a big fan of pitches (or books) that talk to the reader. In other words, I don’t like the phrasing “there is a perfect(ly?) good reason . . .” I think I would like it better if it was something more along the lines of, "Sixteen-year-old Chloe felt no shame about standing in the middle of the street crying. Wouldn’t anyone who was plopped naked into a world where monsters are real and indoor plumbing isn’t? On the search to save a brother who doesn’t want to be saved, Chloe meets with a berserker who tends to go mad with bloodlust at the most inconvenient times and finds herself falling in love with a knight who is more focused on saving a kidnapped princess . . ." (you need one final closer here). And then I think you’ve got it. This one is close, very close, and I suspect any good YA agent would request at least a partial.

I feel like I’m winding down already and I hope it’s not showing in my critiques. Good work, as always. I’ll leave it here for the rest of the readers to give their two cents.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Christie Craig on Finding Your Voice

Christie Craig
Divorced, Desperate and Delicious
Publisher: Dorchester Publishing
Pub date: November 2007
Agent: Kim Lionetti

(Click to Buy)

Christie Craig writes romance fiction that has both witty humor and a suspenseful, sexy tone. Published by Silhouette in the '90s, she recently broke back into fiction in a big way, acquiring a three-book deal with Dorchester. The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel is her latest nonfiction book, coauthored with Faye Hughes and scheduled for release in September '08 through Adams Media.

Awards: A Golden Heart finalist, Christie has also finaled in over 50 RWA-sponsored contests.

Web site:

Divorced, Desperate and Delicious is a humorous romantic suspense about a wounded cop on the run who is being framed by this partner, and a divorced animal-loving heroine who is finished with men forever . . . but has a weak spot for all strays, even wounded cops.

Because my book Divorced, Desperate and Delicious was released today, Kim, Jessica, and Jacky gave me the floor at the BookEnds blog. They even said I could choose my topic. Pretty fearless of them, isn’t it? I considered sharing about the night I saw Kim and Jessica in their pajamas running down the stairwell of a Dallas hotel. But then I’d have to explain that I, too, was there, donned in my PJs. So nope, that wouldn’t work.

Instead, I chose to blog about something I heard at one of my first writing conferences. This piece of advice sent me on a frantic search, too. A well-respected editor said, “The one thing a new writer can do to guarantee her/his success is to go home and find their writing voice.”

So I did just that. I went straight home, got into my comfy clothes, poured myself a glass of wine, went into my office and . . . looked under my desk. I found a few dust bunnies, some dirty socks, a surprise my cat had left for me, but no voice. Where and how did a new writer find her voice?

Over the years, I learned a few things. I’m not saying I’ve found the answer, but I have discovered more than just dirty socks and hair balls. I’ve found there are many debates concerning the elusive thing called a writer’s voice.

Some believe the writer’s voice is encoded in the author’s DNA, that it’s a mere reflection of his or her personality. They insist it lurks within, and if the writer is patient, it will simply come.

Others argue that voice is not something that comes from within, but writers must be willing to shop for it. (Like at Wal-Mart . . . or Neiman-Marcus.) Still others believe the writer’s voice must be tracked down, clubbed, and dragged back by the scruff of its neck, then be caged to avoid its escape.

What’s more, some think a writer gets one voice, while others believe you can have several, or you can train and retrain your voice to work in different types of genres and tones, like a singer who is famous for country and rock.

What do I believe? Well, I think there’s some truth is every one of those debates. I think voice is connected to personality, but I think some people don’t know who they are. I don’t think it hurts to shop around—to try to write in different genres—until you find something that clicks. I also don’t think your voice can run away—there are no cages in my office—but I admit I keep a close eye on mine at all times. I don’t think you can lose your voice, either, but I believe you can get writing laryngitis.

I think voice is a combination of how words are threaded together, how sentences are sewn into paragraphs. It’s also about mood, tone, pacing, and word choice; it’s that elusive something you recognize when you pick up a Jennifer Crusie, or a Lisa Jackson. I think most of us can train ourselves to sing/write in different genres, to use different tones, but perhaps not everyone can. Or perhaps, voice and how it works is as unique to each writer as is . . . well, the types of things found under our desks.

Anyway, I’m hoping that when Divorced, Desperate and Delicious hits the bookstores, people will connect with my voice. Mostly, I hope readers will discover my voice to be entertaining and they’ll be waiting with bated breath for my next release to come out in June of '08.

So what about you? What is your definition and thoughts on voice? Have you found yours, or are you still searching for it behind the dust bunnies?

A BookEnds Anniversary

Today is a very exciting anniversary for BookEnds. No, it’s not the official day we started the business; in fact, I would have to do some work to figure out when exactly that would be. No, today is a day that sticks in my head as well as my own wedding anniversary or my birthday. Today is the day that BookEnds sold its first book.

November 27, 1999, just months after opening our doors and proclaiming ourselves packagers (of course you all know by now that BookEnds started as packagers and not literary agents) we got an offer from Hyperion for two books. For My Daughter on Her Wedding Day and For My Daughter on the Birth of Her First Child were write-in journals that Jacky and I wrote ourselves. Boy, did we think we were so clever. The journals, like those you might have done as a child (The Book of Me) or those they sell now for grandparents to fill out for grandchildren, or the two I received from our soon-to-be Hyperion editor, The Book of Us and The Book of My Pet, were meant as a gift from mother to daughter on two of the most important days of her life. The mother’s job was to fill in the questions we asked—memories of her own wedding or the birth of her own children, advice, and of course memories and thoughts about her daughter. And if I do say so myself, they were damn good books and apparently Hyperion thought so too.

I remember getting the call and being stunned into silence. I was excited, sweating with nervousness, and trying to get off the phone as quickly as possible to call Jacky. Starting our own business was a thrilling and interesting experience. When asked what I was most surprised about by starting BookEnds, I always say it was how many contacts I didn’t have. After five years in publishing for me and more than ten for Jacky, we were convinced we knew a great number of editors and would have no problem networking more. Boy, were we shocked to realize that most of those editors were at the same one or two houses and that in the grand scheme of things we knew no one. That’s why selling these books was a very special surprise. Not only was the sale to a house we had never worked with, but it was to an editor we had never met before. In other words, after careful research and planning we had chosen editors we thought would like the book and we’d been lucky to hit the nail on the head. Selling these books was validation that we did in fact know what we were doing. We hadn’t been in business for more than six months (and certainly this hadn’t been out on submission for that long) when we made that first and very fruitful sale.

Although the books have since gone out of print I still look at them fondly (the cover for one hangs on my wall). It was an idea that I believe worked and it was the launching point for BookEnds in so many ways. Not only did it pay the bills, but it gave us the confidence and the reassurance that we knew what we were doing and yes, we would succeed. Now, eight years later, it’s so amazing to look back and see how far we’ve come. From gift books written by us to big business and health titles that we could never write ourselves, bestselling authors in romance, mystery, and women’s fiction, and fun every day on the job.

The best thing, though, is that with each new offer I get, no matter how small, I get the same feelings I did with that first book. The same thrill of excitement and rush of pride that yes, I do know what I’m doing.


Monday, November 26, 2007

At What Point Is a Work No Longer Under Submission

I have an agent who I've been with for about 2 years. I am considering leaving this agency. I read the contract (and your posts on this subject) and noticed that she retains the right to receive her cut of any manuscripts I might sell that are still in "negotiation," even if we have parted ways. "In negotiation" in the contract is defined as "on submission."

There is one house which expressed strong interest in my work. Ultimately, the editor wasn't able to get the support of other editors—she's still somewhat junior—and the manuscript was rejected. However, the door was left open for me to revise and submit again.

The editor and I have plans to talk and discuss ways to revise the work.

Now for the question: in the event that I do revise and resubmit, is this still part of the original "negotiation" or is it a new submission? If I have a new agent, can the new agent handle this "negotiation," or will it legally be in the hands of the old agent?

The author goes on to explain her reasoning for leaving her agent, which was nice, but she didn’t need to do it. When making the decision to leave an agent you shouldn’t ever feel the need to justify your actions. If you no longer feel the agent you’re with is doing the job you need her to do, that’s enough reason to leave. Be that as it may, I don’t think she’s trying to pull something over on her agent. She doesn’t feel she’s the right person for the job anymore and wants to seek other representation.

This is a tricky question, since I assume there’s no end date to the amount of time the agent has to finalize any deals. For example, the BookEnds contract gives us four months to finalize any outstanding submissions, at which time everything reverts back to the author and we no longer have a right to those sales. I think it’s fair to both us and the author and gives a final end date at which we can all move on. It also gives us sufficient time to wrap anything up, without limiting the author.

My belief is if you don’t have anything physically sitting on an editor’s desk you don’t have anything under submission. When ending your relationship you should say as much in a letter. In other words, send that certified letter saying that you are ending the relationship and since you have no outstanding submissions together you will be moving forward effective immediately, etc., etc. Make sure you are very clear that the old agent has no more rights to your work.

Another thing to consider. Presumably when you resubmit this work, if the editor still wants to see it, it will be an entirely new work and not the same book your agent submitted.

I’m sure advice would be welcome from anyone else who has ever found him/herself in this situation.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

BookEnds will be closed today through Sunday for the holiday.

Have a happy Thanksgiving and we'll see you again on Monday.

—Jessica, Jacky, and Kim

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 7

Here we go again . . . critiques as per Perfecting Your Pitch.

37. mary jelinek
One sentence:
Benny Sherman helps a wayward fairy win back his wings and, in the process, finds his own.

In the wake of his parents’ separation, Benny and his mother move from their comfortable suburban home to his Grandma’s overcrowded bungalow. To make matters worse, the sixth grader is forced to attend Catholic school where he’s sure to feel as out of place as he does stumbling through prayers at Christmas Mass. The last thing he needs is, “ follow some imaginary creatures on a quest to find a fictitious amulet. Not even cool creatures, either. I get sissy fairies.”

LOL! The last line is great. Who can beat that? I think your one-sentence pitch is really good. It definitely grabs my attention and leads me to want more. I also think your paragraph is very strong. Terrific in fact. My only comment might be to limit the quote to, “Not even cool creatures, either. I get sissy fairies.” And explain in a tad more detail (in your own voice) what he’s being asked to do and why. Why is key, I think, because that shows us motivation. Very, very good though! This should definitely get you requests from agents and editors.

38. precie
Urban YA entitled "Tin Man":
A Philadelphia latch-key kid raised on a steady diet of 1980s movies and his mother's urban paranoia, 15-year-old Quentin sees danger everywhere. When his teenage neighbor, Claire, is taken by "the police," his gallantly absurd quest to rescue her evolves into a battle against dangers more powerful and sinister than he ever could have imagined.

Another terrific pitch. I think you all are getting better. My only concern is that there’s a bit of a "show, don’t tell" alert going on here. Make sure your pitch represents the tone of your book. This feels like someone else telling me about your book. What about making it more active? Something like, “Raised on a steady diet of 1980s movies and his mother’s urban paranoia, 15-year-old Quentin sees danger everywhere. When next-door neighbor Claire is taken by 'the police,' Quentin’s gallantly absurd quest to rescue her evolves into a battle against dangers more powerful and sinister than he could ever have imagined”? I think my changes are minor and subtle, but should give you an idea of what I mean by making your pitch more active and more exciting.

39. Julie
....To escape the tyranny of an English King and to fulfill her dying father's wishes for her to seek a free and independent life, Maura McCoveny would have to keep many secrets at a cost almost too high for her to bear....

Snooze. This doesn’t sound any different from any other historical novel I frequently see. This is much too general—focusing on things like freedom, independence, and a high cost. Almost every book should contain conflict that is of a high cost to the protagonist. What is specific about Maura’s battle that will inspire readers to come to it?

40. jamr
Kit Anderson (14) thinks she’s entered hell when her father’s new job forces a family move from plumeria-scented Honolulu to frigid Seoul in the winter of 1974. She decides to channel her energy into escaping Korea, whatever the cost.
This means living by a new set of operating principles such as “Everyone and everything can be used.” Kit’s selfish code of conduct leads her into black-marketing, theft and a life of deceit. It takes a tragic accident and a temporary return to Hawaii to discover that she’s become a person she doesn’t like and to realize that Korea offers adventures that her friends in Hawaii could never imagine.

Granted I don’t know the YA market all that well, but my immediate concern is the date. If your book doesn’t need to be set in 1974, why set it there? It’s not a time period that’s considered historical and not one I’m sure would be of interest to that age group. That in itself might give agents reason to reject unless you can prove a need for it. Overall though I think this is a fairly strong pitch; I’m not sure if I would ask to see more though. It sounds through the pitch like Kit’s a pretty unlikeable character.

41. c.j.
Sitting beside her mother’s deathbed, Annika is awakened to the fact that the man grieving beside her is not her real father. She leaves her family in Kiev and, with the help of long withheld information from this stepfather, retraces the short life of the father she never knew. FLAKES BLOOM follows Annika on her old Voskhod motorcycle as she travels past the government guards and into Pripyat, the now abandoned town once populated by the workers of the Chernobyl Power Plant.

It sounds to me like this is a beautifully written story. How can I tell that? The voice definitely comes through as well as the pace of the book. I think this is a strong pitch, although we still need to know a little more about the conflict Annika faces. A line at the end about what she must come up against once she arrives in Pripyat would be helpful.

42. trina allen
Katharine Taylor has never transmutated into an animal, a dragon or a mountain lion. She has never traveled to the past through her magic quilt, nor faced armies of insects and the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart. All Katharine knows is an unhappy life with an alcoholic mother, but all that is about to change when she learns that she is a wizard and travels to a turbulent time in Boston just before the Revolutionary War. Caught up in the dramatic events that pit the King’s soldiers against their own people, Katharine finds in her new friends the strength to face her destiny.

I like the beginning a lot. I think the first three sentences are terrific. What a great Harry Potter-like book without going straight to telling us that. However, this is another case where the ending lost its fire. I guess I’m not sure I want to read about a wizard who ends up in Boston. Where’s the magic? Where’s the army of insects? The fun of a wizard book, or of any fantasy, is the fantasy. In your description of what’s actually going to happen you neglect to tell us about the fantasy. Since it seems your target is probably a younger audience, my question to you is would a 12-year-old (for example) be interested in reading about the “strength to face her destiny”? or are they more interested in reading about evil wizards and magic quilts? That’s what we want to hear about in the last sentences.

Good work as always. I think the pitches are getting stronger as I go, or I’m getting softer. . . .


Monday, November 19, 2007

Agent Recommendations

Regularly I receive a response from a query I rejected in which the author asks for agent recommendations. Who else do I think they could submit to? And typically I don’t reply. Why? Because if I knew someone I thought would be a much better match for your book, I would tell you.

There was a time, not too long ago, when another agent had somehow decided that rather than simply say no to an author she would pass them off to BookEnds. I’m not sure why she decided this, or if she thought she was doing us any favors, but suddenly we were getting tons of queries from authors saying this agent had referred them to us. And it was driving us nuts. Our initial, and primary, thought was that we were offended. This particular agent reps the same genres as we do, so why on earth would we want to take on projects that she had so obviously rejected? No one likes hand-me-down clothes and I certainly didn’t want hand-me-down rejections.

When will I recommend an agent? Only very rarely. I will happily recommend another agent when I know the project is outside of my range of expertise, but has merit. In that case I might give the name of a colleague who I feel would be a better fit. And there have definitely been times when I have accepted a referral from another agent. Often, though, that agent will call to talk to me about the project and let me know if it’s a good fit first.

Referrals should be special and given sparingly. I know that when I get a referral from a client, she truly feels strongly about that author’s abilities. The same holds true for agents. I’m not about to throw around the names of other agents simply because you ask. A referral is about my reputation as much as it’s about your work, and from my perspective one will only be given when I feel, honestly, that it’s something the other agent could get behind.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Why I Reject

In a recent post on query statistics (which I will try to do more of), I mentioned that I would let you know some of the reasons I was rejecting books, and word count was something that came into play regularly. When does a book get rejected for word count? When it’s much, much too short or much, much too long.

Here is a rough guide of what agents and editors expect when it comes to word count. And yes, there are exceptions to every rule.
  • Most novels are roughly 80,000 to 100,000 words. Anything I don’t mention here should be within that range, give or take 5,000 words. And by the way, when I think word count I think 250 words per double-spaced page with one-inch margins. That’s the way most publishers look at word count. Using Microsoft Word’s count could mess you up since three words of dialogue technically takes up a full line, and word count is about production costs.
  • Cozy mysteries: 70,000 to 90,000 words. Usually on the short end of that.
  • Category romance: Anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 (note this is Harlequin/Silhouette only)
  • Fantasy: Can run longer, up to 120,000 words
Anything too far above or below these figures will often get an automatic rejection from people unless your query is unbelievably compelling.

While I do frequently reject based on word count, it’s not even the most common reason I reject something. I would suspect that the biggest reason something gets rejected from me is because it just doesn’t sound that different or interesting. Your writing might be great, but the story sounds ho-hum. Nothing really stands out or, even worse, you tell me about the issues your book addresses. Trust me. No one cares whether or not your book discusses love and forgiveness or is a social satire. In the end we all just want a really great book—great plot, great characters, great writing.

When going through rejections I often see queries that sound like good ideas. The concept was interesting, but the plot description was so horrible that I passed. If that’s the same writing that I can expect to see in the book, then I don’t want to read any further.

At other times the plot was too slight. The query was very well written and I didn’t doubt that the author could write, but the plot sounded so boring and linear that I had to pass. In other words, if you couldn’t make the book sound different or interesting it wouldn’t matter to me, to editors, or eventually to readers how well it was written. No one would get past the first few chapters.

Any time an author mentions that the book probably still needs an edit, I run. If you don’t feel your book is as near to perfect as you’re going to get it, then I don’t feel it’s ready for me to send around yet.

Essentially, though, your query has to have two things to make me ask to see more. It has to have an interesting and different concept and it has to be well written. It has to give me a sense that when I get the book I already know the writing is going to be solid.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pitch Critiques Update

Okay. You've worn me down. Kim has been saying it for days and I think I have to listen to her. I'm no longer accepting new pitches. I will get through what I can get through while still thinking that I can fairly give a good critique. At this point though I've done more than 20 different posts on the subject (obviously you'll be reading my pitch critiques for quite some time) and I will finish up a few more, but I just don't think I'm going to be able to get to all of them. I apologize, but I don't think I have the energy to give a good, fair pitch to everyone and besides that I suspect you want to read more than just critiques.

Thank you so much to everyone who was brave enough to post those pitches and please, please continue to comment on them and help each other out. I think the discussions about my critiques as well as your own feedback are just as important as what I have to say. Besides, if I can hang in there and do 100+ critiques the least you can do is stick with me.

And because I could use something fun on this rainy day, here are some pitches I used when selling my own client's projects. Critique away...

#1: As a professional Human Resources and Career Strategy Consultant, Cynthia Shapiro knows the ins-and-outs of why and how companies hire, fire, promote and train their employees. In her revolutionary book Corporate Confidential, she’s uncovering key inside secrets of how major companies make decisions and what employees can do to achieve success, save their jobs and thrive in the corporate world. This is the only book that tells you exactly what your company doesn’t want you to know.

#2: After losing their friend, Celina, Elayne and Jasmine think the best way to grieve is by celebrating life and what better way to do that then a trip on the S.S. Fantasy--a cruise designed to make all of your fantasies come true.

#3: Fueled by intense grief over losing her firefighting brother to an apartment fire, arson investigator Maya Jackson impulsively sleeps with a stranger in a bar. Five years later, while investigating a Lake Tahoe wildfire, she comes face to face with her biggest mistake. Not only is Logan Cain the most explosive lover she’s ever had, he’s also the head of the Tahoe Pines Hotshot crew – and her lead suspect. Dangerously attracted to a woman who doesn’t trust him, Logan must find the real killer before the wildfire turns deadly.

#4: Anton Cheval is a powerful wizard and the first to recognize his connection to the ancient Chanku race. In a search to discover others like him--individuals with the genetic ability to shift from human to wolf—Anton meets Stefan Aragat, a man cursed to live as half man and half wolf and Alexandria Olanet, the one woman who has been able to give Stefan the love he seeks. Together Alexandria, Stefan and Anton, pack members, lovers, Chanku, set out on a quest to rescue more of their kind before it is too late, before those intent on their ultimate destruction discover the true heritage of the Chanku.

#5: Hooked on Murder is the first book in Betty Hechtman’s terrific new crochet mystery series.

Well have at them and enjoy!


Bound Submissons

A question from a reader: Is it O.K. to submit a self-published book for a query in lieu of the manuscript?

Yes, it’s okay, but I wouldn’t do it. To an author it looks nicer and more polished, but to an agent or editor it looks like something that has been published, edited, and is now in final and perfect form. So if an editor sees something that’s almost publishable, but needs fixing, her mind has already decided that’s not possible (no matter how many times she’s told). Sending a manuscript says to an agent or editor that this is a wonderful book that’s nearly perfect, but the author will still work on revisions to make it absolutely perfect.

I can’t explain exactly why it is, but I’m certainly less enthusiastic about a book coming in bound than I am about a manuscript. I would also suggest you avoid putting your acknowledgments and dedication in your manuscript. Not only is this the signal of a newbie, but it also says that you are discounting any work your future agent and editor might have to do for you.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 6

You haven’t broken me yet, but you’re getting there. Every time I think I can say I’m a third of the way through I find ten more have been added. At this rate . . . well. And here’s my requisite link to the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch.

31. Christine
Little Fish
Peter Dodge fell in love with a woman he was not sure even existed. Fifty years later she came back for him on a foggy cloud, leaving his aged body behind with a dagger in his heart. When Evie, the beautiful coroner, touches the dagger, she catches a glimpse of the watery world Peter's murderess came from, and the beings there could help her understand one of the town's long unsolved cases, if only she gives them the one thing they are fighting for, a child she'll lovingly call Little Fish.

The first line is really good and definitely grabbed me. After that though I was confused. Is the story about Peter Dodge or Evie? Is the conflict of the story Peter Dodge’s love and later death or is it Evie fighting for a child called Little Fish? I think you have some very intriguing elements here, but it feels like two different pitches. Would it be better to say something more like, “When Evie, a small-town coroner, touches the dagger in Peter Dodge’s chest she is somehow able to see the watery world Peter’s murderer came from, and the beings that help her understand one of the town’s long-unsolved cases. To do so she’ll have to give them (who them?) the one thing they are fighting for, a child she lovingly calls Little Fish . . .”? I think it needs one more line about Little Fish and why she’s so important. Otherwise, you’re right on the verge of a fantastic pitch.

32. anon 11:41
Tillie Russell, an acclaimed entrepreneur who became a household name in the late 90’s by designing pet products, suddenly found herself in the doghouse. In an aggressive interview on a nationally televised talk show, Tillie is bombarded with allegations of animal abuse. Although the implications proved to be completely false, it didn’t deter stores from yanking her products off the shelves, costing the young company over one hundred thousand dollars. The financial debacle resulted in the loss of the company and almost devoured Tillie’s eleven-year marriage. Proving that life could go on, one year later, Tillie becomes pregnant and dreams up a new business with a very unconventional business plan. She enlists ten mothers to join in the new venture she ambitiously names Ten Moms and Counting. Their product? Themselves.

The opening sounds like backstory to me. While cleverly written, it’s not all that exciting and doesn’t sound like it pertains to the story you are trying to sell. What does sound interesting is the Ten Moms and Counting venture. I imagine that’s what the book is really about. So, shouldn’t your pitch say something more along the lines of, “When Tillie Russell decides to look for a new career it’s far from her previous life as an acclaimed designer of pet products. Pregnant and out of work, Tillie comes up with Ten Moms and Counting, a company sure to raise a few eyebrows . . .”? We’ll need to know more specifically now what the company is and what kind of problems it causes.

33. Joan
Athena Solomon is a cemetery director who witnesses burials every day, visits graveyards on vacations, and peruses the internet for locations of famous graves. After her father dies, Athena’s grief is interrupted when she learns about her mother’s long-term love affair and family’s connection to the Jewish Mafia. She unearths the truth about her parentage and suspects that by guarding the past, her mother believed she was protecting her children. Athena then shifts a selfish quest for knowledge into a mission to heal her mother’s soul.

Interesting, but another situation where I don’t see how the first sentence connects with the last part of your pitch. What I thought when I read the first sentence is that I was going to be pitched a new take on a thriller or mystery, but then I realized this is probably women’s fiction. A good pitch means that the reader usually knows not just what the story is about, but also the genre without being told. I think your pitch is actually more detail about Athena’s mission to heal her mother’s soul.

34. Mary
Marian lives a content life – at least while Father is away – she enjoys the herbalism training from her mother, and has a good friend in the village recluse. But after her village is destroyed, she lashes out at those responsible in a magic she didn't know she had. Girls born with magic are sentenced to death. Marian would know, she helped birth one recently, and her heart broke watching the Enchanter take it away. She doesn't know who she can trust or how she can learn to control her new skills without revealing herself to the Enchanters Guild.

There’s something missing here. I think that it’s another case of trying to squeeze in too much information. Do we need to have the first sentence? Would it be better to get straight to the point? The point/conflict seems to be that Marian is now forced to learn to control her magic without letting anyone know. My question to you though is how is this different? What makes this special from other books where someone must learn to control magic? It seems like a common theme and plot. We need to know what makes Marian’s plight unique and intriguing and different from all the others.

35. dwight’s writing manifesto
Over 350 living Americans have floated weightless in Outer Space, but less than two dozen men and women have crawled along the muddy bottom of the Mississippi River at its most treacherous depths. DIVER DOWN chronicles the life of Evan, a river construction diver, as he finds himself navigating even more treacherous chasms of the heart.

I love this. The tone, the voice, the comparison to Outer Space. I think this is an incredibly strong pitch (and I’m not just saying that because your picture scares me), until the end. The ending seems like a downer to me, and what I mean by downer is disappointment. I would assume from your opening that things are going to be happening on the bottom of the Mississippi, but from the last line it sounds like it’s a love story. If he’s battling more than possible heartache I wouldn’t request more; if you have something bigger for him, you’re in. In other words, you have a great setup, but slow follow-through.

36. karen duvall
Chalice has a unique gift of sight, sound and scent, which makes her the perfect thief. But not by choice. She's forced to steal charmed and cursed objects for a secret society of magicians, her bond to their gargoyle guaranteeing her complicity. If she doesn't steal for them, she'll turn into a bat-winged atrocity just like the thing she's bonded to. If Chalice can kill her gargoyle, she'll be free. But how do you kill an immortal creature? To learn the answer she must gain wisdom from the remains of a prophetic saint, fall in love with a thousand year-old Turkish warrior from the Crusades, befriend an elf who owns a coffee shop that caters to the people of faery, and find her fallen angel father.

Uff da. A lot going on here and very confusing. I think this is the hardest thing about complicated plots, it’s hard to tell what’s important and what’s not. Even I have that trouble when pitching to editors. It can also be a sign that maybe the book itself is confusing or not tight enough. You need to ask yourself what’s the point? What’s the conflict? It seems to me that Chalice’s biggest conflict is that she must kill a gargoyle to gain freedom and to do that she must....” It still seems like a lot though and I’m not sure any of it feels really exciting. I guess the question is what is the real journey? What is the real issue for Chalice?

And that’s it for today. Great work again. I’m off to continue my critiques. I do think I have fewer than 100 left.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Trouble with Interviews

I just had an experience that I’ve never had before and I want to share it with you as a warning. As I’m sure you know I am frequently asked to do interviews or have articles written based on speaking I may have done at conferences or writer’s group meetings. Well, for the first time I came across an interview that really upset me. The author was clearly not a reporter and had done, what I feel, was a real hatchet job to our interview.

When all is said and done the interview made me sound horrible, harsh, and kind of mean. Now, I was a reporter for years, so I know what kind of leeway a reporter can have when writing a story, and I have been in situations where I’ve been told the direction the editor wanted the story to go and I should make it that way. Needless to say I quit that job. I also know how easy it is to twist what someone says simply by taking quotes out of context. Let me clarify, I don’t think this reporter did any of those things maliciously. I think she simply did not have the experience to know how to weave together a good article.

So now I’m stuck with a horrible article/interview floating around cyberspace that makes me look stupid, mean, and snarky, but not in a fun way. Unfortunately this is a risk we all take when doing interviews of any kind, and while we can ask to see a story before it runs, I know from my own experience that few reporters will allow such a thing.

I only hope that this story gets buried to the bottom of Google very quickly.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 5

I’m baaack. How do you find an original introduction to all of these pitch critiques? You don’t. What I can tell you is that I’m learning how really hard it is to write a good pitch. The funny thing though is that when I look at most of the initial query letters made by the authors I represent, they all had pretty good pitches. In many cases I used those pitches as my own to publishers. This is why agents feel they can judge a book by its pitch. If the pitch has it all there, it’s likely the book does too. Just something to get you thinking. And here’s my requisite link to the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch).

25. jenny
ONE HIGHLAND NIGHT (time-travel romance):

When a meteoritic crystal opens a wormhole on the grounds of ruined Kilchurn Castle in the Scottish Highlands, trapping American physicist Elizabeth Martin over 300 years in the past, her cheating ex-fiancé becomes the least of her worries. Pursued by the politically avaricious Earl of Breadalbane, who wants to use her “Sight” to further his consolidation of power, her only choice is to take refuge with an outlaw clan—a temporary measure until she can find a way to return to her own time.

That’s the plan, at least, until she finds in Alec MacGregor, her handsome protector, a love worth giving up everything she’s ever known.

But it is the late seventeenth century, and while Scotland is torn by the power struggles between supporters of the exiled King James and the English who would seek to rule them, she and Alec are swept into the intrigues of Earls and Kings, and events that could take their lives...or separate them forever.

You do realize this is a pitch contest and not a synopsis contest, right? Way, way too long! And I haven’t even read it yet. The funny thing is that I really know nothing about your book. Do we really need to know how she ended up in the past? Probably not in quite that way. For some reason the fact that it was a meteoritic crystal and wormhole confused me because really this isn’t SF or Fantasy, it’s a fairly straightforward time travel/historical. And of course I’m easily confused. Why not just say, "When a meteorite hits the ruins of Kilchurn Castle, physicist Elizabeth Martin finds herself propelled 300 years in the past"? That’s simpler and helps you get to the point faster. Now, what’s the real conflict? What’s really going to make the reader grab this and read? "Forced to take refuge from a ruthless Earl, Elizabeth..."? I think you can easily get this into just a few short sentences.

26. anon 11:04
(Title) is a portal between the two worlds of mortal Glastonbury Proper and the magical world including the dark and mysterious Wysiwyg Wood (where what you see is what you get). The wood is full of magic, the truths of many legends held within its boundaries. Lionel and Eaglantine Griffin are the gatekeepers of the lake, who have great responsibility in keeping the Seeker of Justice and Retribution, Stormy Reed, safe from the evil Nefarious Nobleman. Stormy Reed is unaware of his magical beginnings or his mystical destiny, and in his dawning of discovery, he finds his world exploding with possibilities he is eager to explore.

Who is your protagonist and what is his challenge? Is it Stormy Read or Lionel and Eaglantine? In reading your pitch I know nothing about the story. I know about the setting and I know about the characters, but I don’t know what is going to be happening, and a pitch should really be about what’s happening. I think the pitch is probably the “possibilities he is eager to explore” as well as “his dawning discovery.”

27. wanda b. ontheshelves
Even in an Arctic ice palace, the initials "SC" in the center of a floor mural might not stand for Santa Claus. So Cassie Novotny, a 28-year-old architect turned wedding cake designer, learns upon encountering Sonya Chloe, a 270-year-old "Mother Frost," at Palais du Nord.

You know, your name alone might be enough to make me request the proposal. Very clever. Unfortunately, name alone doesn’t sell a book (unless of course your name is Seinfeld). So here we go . . . I have no idea what this is about. What is a cake designer doing in the Arctic? And who is Sonya Chloe and what does she have to do with anything? In other words, this pitch tells me nothing. Unless Santa Claus is in the story I wouldn’t bother including him at all. You need to get right to the plot and, of course, conflict.

28. april
(one sentence) Emma Grey and her mother Sylvia must take a chance on love to prevent the past from destroying their future.

(four sentences)Hearts are fragile things and in constant danger. Emma Grey is a ninteen year old dancer with a promising future. Her mother Sylvia is a woman who closed her heart to love after her husband left. When he returns, Emma and Sylvia learn that love is tough, but it may be worth the effort it takes to bring their family back together.

I think your one-sentence pitch is actually stronger than your four-sentence pitch. The problem with both though is that I want to know how their future could be destroyed. Why not make your entire pitch something more like, “Emma Grey and her mother Sylvia must take a chance on love to prevent the past from destroying their future. After ten long years Emma’s father finally returns home, but now he has a secret, a secret that could destroy them all unless Emma and Sylvia can learn to trust again”? Of course I have no idea if that has anything to do with the story, but I think it might give you an idea of what I mean. The true pitch here is the destroying-the-future part. Oh, and I would include more details than I did. Don’t try to be clever and vague. Is the secret that they are all really aliens? Or that they’re living on stolen money? Is it that they are in witness protection? Specifics make a stronger pitch.

29. erik
When you are 3 1/4 inches tall and thoughtless humans destroy your home, you want revenge. One Hopneg's journey in search of payback brings him something bigger, yet smaller. "Downriver" was written for teens but speaks to everyone who wants to be able to see those things we usually can't.

I need to know a little more about the journey. That’s your hook. This little creature in a big world. What is he doing for revenge? What does he face? As part of your pitch I don’t think you need to say who the book is for.

30. anon 11:31
Sara Garcia is a self-employed Dallas auditor, happiest working with spreadsheets, her laptop, and rows and columns of figures. But when her lifelong friend calls in a favor, Sara finds that in order to avoid killing a life-long friendship she could end up dead herself.

I think your opening sentence is great. Nothing revolutionary, but it gives us a really good idea of your character. Now I would assume that your second sentence is going to describe a situation that is totally the opposite of someone who is happiest working with spreadsheets. Therefore I think it could be stronger. “So when Sara finds herself tripping over a dead body, she knows the only way to get back to her spreadsheets is to find the murderer.” Okay, that’s boring too, but I think you know what I mean. What’s exciting? Here’s a sample pitch I made recently for a new mystery series. Okay, to be honest I stole this from the author, but here we go: “Tessa Silver believes she’s buried her past by changing her name and leaving behind a career in high tech to become a glass bead maker. She cannot shake her history so easily, however, and it leads the police straight to her when a competing glassworker is found dead with a copy of one of Tessa’s signature beads in her pocket. Tessa is determined to solve the mystery of the woman’s murder before police scrutiny forces her to reinvent herself yet again.”

And that’s it for today. Great work again. I’m off to continue my critiques. Still about a billion left to go.


Friday, November 09, 2007

How Much Money Will I Make

I’ve done multiple posts now on questions you can, should, and might ask an agent before signing, but a reader came forward to ask me a question I hadn’t considered. Is it appropriate to ask an agent how much she thinks she’ll be able to sell the book for?

Of course I think the answer to this question depends greatly on the author’s personality and whether or not she is comfortable asking such a question. And authors have asked this question of me before signing. Strangely enough, I think they’ve all been nonfiction authors. While I do think it’s entirely appropriate to ask the question, it does put the agent a bit on the hot seat, and of course none of us likes that. For you, though, it’s a great testing ground. It’s the kind of question that’s really going to throw most agents, and the kind of answer that will give you a real look into how this agent probably operates.

While it’s unlikely you’ll get a straight answer, because it’s unlikely the agent has a straight answer, how the agent does answer can say a lot about how comfortable you might be working with such a person. In other words, I wouldn’t base your decision in choosing an agent on how much money she thinks she can get for you, but instead how straightforward she is when answering. How honest is she with you, or how honest do you feel she is? The truth is that agents don’t really know the answer. She can give a ballpark based on her experiences of how much she thinks a publisher might offer, but until she talks to editors who have read the book and knows the passion they feel for it, she won’t know how much they are willing to fight for it—which is when the real money comes in.

Okay. I’ll stop talking in circles now. What I’m trying to say is that I would be wary of the agent who gives a fantastical figure and sounds like she’s promising to get you that kind of money. I would also be wary of the agent who gets mad at you for even asking. I would, however, seriously consider the agent who takes the time to explain how the money process works and what sort of range you might expect based on the subject of your book, its “hotness” factor, your experience, etc. An agent who is as open and honest about your question as she can be.

I’m curious, though. Have any of you asked agents this question, and what kind of responses did you receive?


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 4

I’m going with this until I finish the critiques. Which, at this rate, could be well into 2008. What does that mean? That means if you want to add your pitch, go ahead and add your pitch (in the original post, please: October 25 workshop on Perfecting Your Pitch). I’ll let you know when it’s time to stop.

19. abi
(Title) blends the quirkiness of small town life with that of a magical world, and is vividly depicted, just as those authored by J. K. Rowling, Christopher Paolini, and J. R. R. Tolkien. Reading (Title) will take you on a journey that will have you laughing and crying, coming and going, and always wanting more. You will feel as though you are a part of the story, and not just the reader. Smell the aromas and satisfy your taste buds by sampling the recipes scattered throughout the book.

This is another case of show don’t tell. Remember, a pitch is not a book report, it’s a pitch, which means that in addition to telling the reader about your story you want to give her a sense of atmosphere, voice, and tone. This would be so much stronger if you did something more along the lines of, “In the vein of J. K. Rowling, Christopher Paolini, and J. R. R. Tolkien, (Title) introduces you to Frank, a magical child who finds himself...” What you have here is a sense of what you’re doing for the reader, which tells me nothing about the book. Think of it this way: if someone came up to you and said you have to read this book, it will make you feel as if you are a part of the story, would that make you buy it? Doubtful. Any good book should do that. Any good book should make the reader lose herself and smell the aromas, etc. What you need to do is tell us about plot and conflict.

20. anon 10:26
When sixteen-year-old Marta Carlitos experiences a terrible car accident that leaves her in a coma, she finds herself trapped outside her physical body and tethered to her bed-bound form by a damaged spectral cord. Sentenced to float above her body --- and able to see and hear everything but not communicate with the physical world --- she befriends three other souls trapped outside their comatose bodies.

Soon, Marta realizes she must solve the puzzle of healing their frayed cords in order to enable herself and her friends to rejoin their bodies and the physical world. But when one of her “friends’ tries to thwart her plans in order to keep her with him and away from the world, Marta realizes it’s going to take all her power to heal herself before her parents decide to pull the plug.

First, let me say, this is kind of weird. Weird good though. I think you have a really cool idea. However, my first reaction to your pitch is that it’s too long. You definitely have something there and it’s something that would make me seriously consider asking for more, but you miss the point by trying to reveal too much. Could you cut it down to this: “When sixteen-year-old Marta Carlitos experiences a terrible car accident that leaves her in a coma, she finds herself trapped outside her physical body and tethered to her bed-bound form by a damaged spectral cord. Sentenced to float above her body --- and able to see and hear everything but not communicate with the physical world --- she befriends three other souls trapped outside their comatose bodies. In order to return to the physical world it’s up to Marta to heal their frayed cords, but what will happen when not everyone wants to be healed?” I think my version is a little better, but I still feel like it’s missing something. The last sentence should really be what happens if... What’s the ticking time bomb. What is Marta up against? What really happens on a grand scale if they don’t get healed, and I think it has to be more than Marta’s death. I imagine you have something bigger in the book, a larger conflict, and that needs to be added in here.

21. anon 10:32
There are pleasant ways to die and dreadful ways to die. But dying of insomnia? Now that would suck.

What fun! This made me laugh and made me want more. This is enough to hook me in, but now, ideally, in a query letter you would have a paragraph that’s just as brilliantly written that would tell me exactly what the book is about, because what you have here is a tagline, not a pitch. It’s enough to grab someone’s attention, but not enough to get them to buy a book.

22. jodi
Think the Bourne Identity meets Kill Bill in Singapore.

The problem here . . . I’ve never read a Bourne book, and since I’m not much of a movie watcher (note to everyone submitting to me) I’ve never seen either of these movies. So basically, this is lost on me. However, even if I had seen these movies I still need more. This is a tagline, but not a pitch. To give you an example or how to pitch by comparing your book, here’s the tagline I wrote for Karen MacInerney’s Howling at the Moon: Tales of an Urban Werewolf: "Charlaine Harris meets Mary Janice Davidson in this series featuring Sophie Garou, a twenty-eight-year-old whose life is just about perfect—except for one minor detail . . . she's also a werewolf." Again, I also have a paragraph that followed, but this is enough of a tagline to grab the editor’s attention and actually give her some of the book’s details. You now know how it’s like the two books I’m comparing it to.

23. lauren j
In 1999, Lainie Walter sets off on a journey to find her roots in Poland. Although she planned to travel alone, her friend, Josh Stiller, tagged along at the last minute. Here, in a world that she doesn’t fully comprehend, Lainie sees ghosts. One ghost in particular haunts her journey, the ghost of her great aunt Sura. In New York, Lainie had not known of Sura’s existence. Now, she learns of Sura’s life, marriage, children and death. This takes on huge importance, as Sura needs Lainie’s help to locate her daughter. As Lainie tries to sort all this out, Stiller blurts out that he came along because he’s in love with her and wants a chance at a relationship. Against this foreign backdrop, Lainie must try and find Sura’s daughter and decide whether she is ready to commit to love.

Well, I know what the conflict is, but the problem is that I’m not at all inspired by it. It seems to be that you’re trying to throw everything into this pitch and forgetting the most exciting part—the pitch. What about something like this, “In search of her roots in Poland, Lainie Walter finds more than just the stories of the past, she actually meets the ghosts. But it’s that of her great grandmother that haunts her most. Sura needs Lainie’s help in finding her daughter....”? And now I need to know why. Why is it so important that Sura find her daughter and what impact does that have on Lainie? That’s your conflict. As you have it written now it’s a very staid story of a search and love, but nothing really out of the ordinary. I see nothing wrong with mentioning Stiller’s love for Lainie, but it seems to me that’s your secondary storyline, unless I’m reading this wrong.

24. l.e. Hollis
My fantasy novel is about two young sisters trying to rescue their family from the Inquisition in a world of alchemy and witchcraft. One sister is turned into a dragon to be used as a weapon of the Church, but she breaks free of their control. The other has an inquisitor who betrayed the Church trapped in her mind, granting her his skills as a champion fencer.

Show, don’t tell. This pitch is a snooze. It reads like a third-grade book report. You have some really great ideas, but none of them come through here. How about something along the lines of, “In a world of alchemy and witchcraft, it’s up to two young girls to save their family from the Inquisition. When Sally is turned into a dragon and used as a weapon of the Church, June knows she must . . .”? As the pitch reads it sounds awfully depressing. You’re not telling me the conflict these characters face (or even any indication of who they are); instead it seems you are telling me the outcome.

And that’s it for today. Great work again. I’m off to continue my critiques. Only about a billion left to go.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Query Recap

It seems you like to see query recaps from me. So here’s another. I was out of the office October 12-21. It took me until today to get through the queries from that time away. So here’s a statistical breakdown of what happened to them. . . .

Total equeries received: 100 (Keep in mind that this does not include the pile of proposals and snail-mail queries that were also waiting upon my return.)

• Total I fished out of the spam filter: 11
• Total rejected: 76
• Total requested: 7
• Requested fulls: 1
• Used the Wrong Name (i.e., Jennifer Fraust): 2
• Total from a country outside of the US or Canada: 7
• Emails checking submission status or the arrival of material: 5
• Young Adult submissions (which I don’t represent): 3
• Emails begging me to take a second look at the query or chastising me for rejecting them without reading more than a query: 1
• Examples of queries rejected for word count issues: 15,000-word nonfiction; 225,000-word fiction
• Queries I had to jump on over vacation (requesting a full be sent to my mom’s home): 1 (later rejected)
• Thank yous for previous rejections: 1
• Queries that included nothing but a Web link: 1
• Odd items that only confused me: 3
  • “please contact me at this phone number. I’ve written a book.”
  • follow-up email that reads like a new query. I wasn’t sure if it was a query or a status check.
  • response to a rejection asking me to keep the work in mind when I have an opening on my list. I can contact at . . .
• Request for submission guidelines: 1
• Submission with a long list of titles: 3
• Submissions made to all three of us in one email: 2
• Addressed to the wrong agent: 1
• Number of equeries I passed to either Kim or Jacky: 3

So that's it.



Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 3

Here we go again! More critiques from the October 25 workshop on Perfecting Your Pitch. Thank you again to all the brave souls who put themselves out there. Over the course of the next several weeks I will go through pitch-by-pitch and give my critique. Feel free to comment and give your own critiques, ask further questions, or just tell us what you thought. This was a lot of fun for me and I might, just might, do it again sometime (if I ever get through this pile).

13. jp

Tag line for my amateur sleuth mystery:
Some families have skeletons in their closets . . . others have SKELETAL REMAINS.

Huh? This is clearly a case of shooting yourself with cleverness. While I see what you’re trying to do, in the end you haven’t given me any information about this book. Is it a family of sleuths who find actual bones in the closet? Is it a family of skeletons? I’m afraid that with so little information I can’t be of much help beyond that.

14. therapistwriter
When Letty Whittaker, psychotherapist and recovering alcoholic, responds to a Twelve Step call from an old friend at the tail-end of a binge, she doesn’t expect to find Vicky brutally murdered. Finding herself in possession of Vicky’s Fourth Step (the infamous list of resentments) and unable to turn it over to the cops without blowing her anonymity, Letty uses the List to track down the people Vicky was angry at- and those whom she has angered.

I like this idea, it’s interesting. I’m afraid though that it’s another of those that I read, sit on, open again a few days later, and pass on. I’m assuming this is an amateur sleuth/cozy series. That’s what it feels like to me based on the writing. If that’s the case I’m not sure a recovering alcoholic is enough to carry a series. After all, if you pay close attention to mystery fiction, most cops or detectives seem to be either alcoholics or recovering alcoholics. What else does Letty bring to the table? What else do you have for a hook? As for the pitch itself I think it can be tightened and spruced up. Overall, though, while it’s not bad, it’s not really catchy enough. What about something more like this: “Responding to a Twelve Step call in the middle of the night is nothing unusual for Letty Whittaker, psychotherapist and recovering alcoholic, but finding the caller murdered is. Now in possession of Vicky’s Fourth Step (the infamous list of resentments) and unable to turn it over to the cops without blowing her anonymity, Letty uses the List to track down the people Vicky was angry at--and those whom she has angered”? I think it still needs help and I think that help will have to come from the story itself. One thought is why is she so concerned with Vicky’s anonymity? She was murdered. Does that really seem enough of a reason to possibly derail a murder investigation? And wouldn’t the cops already know who Vicky is? I find this very puzzling and hard to swallow.

15. amy m
A man who can possess people meets the one woman he cannot - and is immediately smitten.

There’s definitely something here. I like it and I’m intrigued. I think this is one of those cases though where another sentence or two might help strengthen your cause. My one concern, though, is that there’s something about this short pitch that makes the book feel too simple. Too much like a category romance and not like a single title. It could be because your entire focus is on the romance and no other conflict. Of course if it is category you’re in good shape.

16. alexis fleming
Terror Awakes, an eighty thousand word Futuristic Romance, is the story of a woman with the psychic ability to walk in other people’s dreams and the planetary police officer who doubts her word, but is willing to use her to catch a serial killer when she stumbles into the killer’s dreams.

I’m concerned that you’re confusing a pitch with the query letter here and getting bogged down in details. Pull out your word count immediately. While the title and genre are okay in a pitch they aren’t necessary. Word count just bogs things down and gives the agent too much of a lull before getting to the point. Interesting. This is similar to an earlier pitch about a heroine who could read people’s souls by looking into their eyes. Different of course, but reminiscent. Don’t say anything like, “this is the story,” you weaken your point that way. Jump right into it as you would the book. That also helps agents get a sense for your voice and style. What about something like this (and of course I’m making up details since I don’t know them): “The year is 2045 and planetary police officer Jeff Gibbons is on the biggest hunt of his life, for the deadliest serial killer the planet has ever known. Time is running out and there’s only one person he can turn to, the one he isn’t sure he can trust. Joyce Frank and her unique ability to walk into the dreams of others is the only hope he has left, but will his decision come too late?”? Something along these lines—that gets into the heart of the story—is stronger. Although I don’t think my version is perfect either. Still a little too vague.

17. kate
Fantasy Novel (Untitled)
Ellusia Carver is the first child born that has survived, since the Breaking of the World. Her father's Kingdom is suspended high up in the clouds with the aid of the Magicians of Tove while the world below them boils in a turmoil of dragons and fire.

The Kingdom is in civil unrest and the King's brother is gaining more favour as he steps up his search for a safe place to settle their fragile land. The King, however, wants to reach upwards and develop the pact he entered into with the Ethereans, who saved his daughter’s life, but at what cost? In the middle of this Ellusia is growing up isolated and confused. When her brother is killed she becomes the sole heir to the throne of a Kingdom that is turning against her.

Uff da! Too long. My first concern is that your first paragraph makes absolutely no sense to me. You’re dropping in a lot of information that I probably don’t need to know at all at this point and that only confuses me. In fact, the second doesn’t help much either. What’s the real conflict here? When does the story really get going? Does it start moving at the Breaking of the World or the pact with the Ethereans? Is it about Ellusia or about her father? I think you need to clarify exactly who the protagonist is and what the conflict is. It seems to me your pitch is more along the lines of, “Ellusia Carver has led a protected and spoiled life as princess in her father’s Kingdom high above the clouds, but when civil unrest hits and her brother is killed, Ellusia is forced to leave her protected world to battle the beasts so many tried so hard to keep her away from.” Or something that would be of course much better then that. I think you get the point though.

18. colorado writer
Freedom Jane McKenzie, mibster extraordinaire, navigates the world of boys, Barbie and brothers in a coming of age story set in 1959 Idaho Falls, Idaho.

I’m sorry. I have no idea what a “mibster” is and I wonder if that’s why I’m confused. Am I missing something? More important, what’s coming of age about Barbie, boys and brothers that’s different from anyone else’s childhood? A pitch needs to make your book stand out. Was Freedom Jane raised without a mother and forced to fend for herself? Did she one day see a murder? Did she think she was really meant to be a boy? Do you see where I’m going with this? As you’ve written it now there’s no story here.

And that’s it for today. Great work again. I hope as always I’ve been of some help, and of course I know that I’ll be corrected and thrashed if I was out of line ;)

Keep an eye out for the next group.


Monday, November 05, 2007

The Fall of a Publisher

As anyone involved in romance writing knows, there have been a number of small publishers, epublishers and otherwise, who have closed their doors lately. This has caused panic, upset, and general insanity of course. Not that I’m blaming anyone but the publishers. It’s upsetting when you spend months and years looking for a publisher and finally find one you think is reputable, because you have done your research, only to learn that they are completely irresponsible. It’s even more upsetting when you discover that your book might very well be held up in their bankruptcy hearings for quite some time.

Since I’m not part of authors' loops or groups I don’t often hear the scuttlebutt that goes on behind closed doors, but one kind reader alerted me to some of the panic and asked that I make some attempt to try to calm people and quell their nerves. This silly reader thinks people actually listen to me. While I’m flattered, I’m not sure I can do any good.

What I have been told is that some writers are urging those who have books or proposals with these houses to rush out and register a poor man’s copyright (by the way, there’s no need to do this in any instance ever, but I suppose it can’t hurt); they are being told to retitle the book or change the characters so they can sell it elsewhere. Folks. None of this is going to work. The first thing you need to do is, if you are under contract, officially terminate the agreement. Demand that rights be reverted in a letter sent by you, your lawyer, or your agent via certified mail. Then you need to wait. Yes, I’m afraid you’ll need to wait and see how things play out a little. No publisher is going to want to touch a book that might get them into legal entanglements, so changing a title or a few character names is risky business for you, for the publisher, and for your career. Do you really want to go down that road?

My best suggestion is to place your focus, at least for the moment, on your next book. Make that something that another publisher would really want and, in the meantime, work at getting those rights legally back from the defunct publisher.

As for whether or not you are owed money by these publishers, you need to talk to a lawyer about that. You need to follow your contract’s accounting clause and demand an accounting of the books. And you need to decide if the cost of said lawyer or CPA is going to be worth what you really might be owed for those books. In any bankruptcy situation people lose. Those that are likely to see some money are those that are owed the most. My guess is authors are not on the top of this list.

I wish I had better news for you. I truly feel horrible for all the authors caught up in this mess and wish all of them well. For now, though, keep looking forward.


Friday, November 02, 2007

A Day in the Life/Market Updates

It’s been a busy crazy week at BookEnds, but since it’s Friday and things have quieted down just a little I thought I could touch base to tell you what’s been going on both at my desk and in publishing in general.

Since Labor Day I’ve been busy with submissions and client work. I think most of my clients spent the summer writing and were ready to send me new books and new ideas once the leaves started to fall. You know, it’s really, really cool when you can read a client’s book and actually get the same chills all over again that you got when you first discovered her in the slush pile. Of course it’s even cooler when you send those books out to editors and they get chills too.

I also had a fun situation where two nonfiction authors I worked with years ago both reentered the picture. Both authors had published books at least three years ago and while we maintained our official author/agent relationship, things have been pretty quiet since their books came out. Coincidentally this week I heard from two different editors seeking books that made these clients immediately come to mind. I got in touch and both are working on book proposals as we speak.

I’ve finalized a couple of contracts this week that I’m very excited about. The paperwork is with the authors now for signature and shortly I’ll get the deals posted on Publisher’s Marketplace. I think I had mentioned that BookEnds is doing an entire contract (re)evaluation lately. We are going through all contracts clause-by-clause and discussing how we can better strengthen our boilerplates with all publishers. It’s been a fun exercise for all three of us. Okay, maybe not fun, but really useful and what we’re doing has already come into play with my negotiations. A big part of my job is to work to continually build stronger contracts for my clients and keep updated on new and ever-changing language.

And of course, it was Halloween! I skipped out early to do some trick-or-treating. We had great weather here and I even got a Snickers bar or two.

With all all of the submitting I’m doing lately it’s given me a real opportunity to touch base with editors and see what everyone is up to.

Kim said that the one thing she’s hearing over and over is that romance editors are excited about the resurgence of interest in historicals. It seems everyone is hunting for new, fresh historical romance voices so you historical authors should get cracking. You’re in demand again!

In talking with an editor at Avon I learned that publishing their Avon Red titles in mass market didn’t go nearly as well as they had hoped and it seems, at least from their perspective, that erotic romance buyers are a trade paperback audience and not mass market. She also said that for them single theme (erotic romance) novella collections by the same author sell better than full-length novels (again for Avon Red).

I also talked to an editor who recently made a change to Hearst Books, a division of Sterling Publishing. I have never sold to Hearst or talked to an editor there so I was interested in hearing more. She explained to me that most of the Hearst Books titles stem from content already existing in the Hearst magazines (including Redbook, Country Living, and Cosmopolitan) but they are planning to expand that list in new ways, especially into health and parenting and a little bit into career books.  Any potential author would have to be comfortable writing with the magazine's voice and would, of course, need a strong platform.  

An editor at Bantam told me she is hungry to add more contemporary romances to her list right now while a former romance editor at Grand Central let me know that she’s looking for female driven suspense and pop culture/commercial nonfiction (she’s no longer handling romance).

An editor at Kensington told me that their mystery list is booked pretty solid for a while, but he would love to see thrillers along the lines of Vince Flynn. He did remind me though that everyone is looking for those (and of course they/we are).

And lastly, I met a new editor at St. Martin’s. Not new really, but new to me. He’s someone who has what he calls a “guy” list, with a lot of military, sports, outdoor adventure, pop culture, humor and the occasional thriller.

I’m actually running out the door right now. I’m finally, finally getting a new laptop. I’ve been waiting for months for Leopard to be released (the new Mac operating system for those who might live in a cave) so I’m off to the Apple store to discuss how big and fast I really need said laptop to be. Should I be embarrassed by how excited I am? Christmas can’t hold a candle to a trip the the Apple store.


Have a great weekend everyone!

When Submission Guidelines Change

I received a question from an author who was introduced to Kim a year ago and was told to send something based on our submission guidelines when she had it ready. Unfortunately, as many of you know, our submission guidelines have changed in the past year and this author is now wondering how exactly she should submit. Based on the old guidelines, the ones in effect when she first met Kim (the guidelines that allowed for unsolicited proposal submissions) or the new guidelines, the ones that prefer email queries? When in doubt, follow the rules.

In other words, while I’m not Kim, my suggestion would always be that when in doubt, simply query and ask. Send an equery reminding Kim of your meeting, wowing her with your book, etc., and see what she says. Then you’ll know from her exactly what she prefers, you follow the rules, and you don’t have to second-guess yourself.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 2

Six more critiques from the October 25 workshop on Perfecting Your Pitch. This is really fun, so thanks again to everyone who was willing to put themselves out there. Over the course of the next several weeks I will go through pitch-by-pitch and give my critique. Feel free to comment and give your own critiques, ask further questions, or just tell us what you thought.

7. Caroline Smith
Sometimes white picket fences can turn into iron bars. At 45, Jennifer has everything she's always dreamed of - husband, children and security. Why then does she feel as if her life has been placed on pause? A story of discovery, adjustment and new beginnings.

I hate to do this to you, but snooze. Almost all women’s fiction are stories of “discovery, adjustment and new beginnings.” This is exactly what I mean when I warn against describing your book by using themes. Few readers care what the theme of a book is. We don’t buy a book based on themes. We buy because we’re looking for a riveting plot and engaging characters. Your first sentence is strong. I like that a lot in fact, but now you need to show me how that happened for her or what that means for her or what she’s going to do about it. In other words, now that Jennifer (and the reader) feel that the white picket fence has turned into iron bars, what happens? Does she have a torrid love affair? Does she pack up and leave her husband and kids? Does she dye her hair purple and join a punk band? We know the internal conflict for Jennifer, now we need more action, we need to know what’s going on externally.

8. Aimless Writer
Eyes of My Killer: (Romantic Suspense) Misty reads eyes. She only needs to glance deep within your eyes to see your soul, your past and future. When she comes eye to eye with a serial killer Misty goes to the police for help.

Max Jennings is a by the book cop and he’s on the trail of the nastiest serial killer in Angel Fall’s history. When Misty McAllister walks into his squad room and declares she knows who the Angel Fall’s Strangler is because she met him at the mall, Max labels her a whacko. When the strangler leaves a message on Misty’s door step in the form of a dead body Max labels her a suspect, but Misty insists it’s a warning.

Interesting idea. This is one of those queries that I would close up again immediately after reading. It has me unsure, so therefore I wouldn’t answer right away. It would sit in my in-box for another day or two, I’d open it again, and in all likelihood I’d reject it. Disappointing because you were oh, so close. The idea is good. I like the idea of someone who can see your soul so easily. I think that’s an interesting concept. What doesn’t work here is that I think I can read the flaws in your book through your pitch. If Misty knows who the killer is, where’s the suspense? By revealing the killer so early you base the entire book on Max’s inability to believe her. That’s going to make for an irritating read. Of course, I’m not sure if the book is actually written this way, but what about something more along the lines of, “With just one glance into another’s eyes, Misty can see into a person’s soul. A skill that’s been known to get her in a lot of trouble in the past. But nothing beats the day she comes eye to eye with a serial killer, who knows what she’s seen. Now Misty is in a race for her life and only one man can help her, the one who doesn’t believe her”?

9. Tess Harrison
Every man has a breaking point, even Jonas Pride. So when the visions start again, he has no choice but to face the destiny he’s spent his life fighting against. Because this time, the only woman to break his restraint and make him crave her touch is the one woman his enemy is using to claim him as one of their own.

This is a problem I see a lot in pitches. Authors think they have a really great opening line, but don’t tie it in at all to the rest of the pitch. I don’t get how the breaking point really ties into the entire book. It’s a great setup, but is it only about craving the touch of one woman, because that’s going to be a pretty uninteresting book. I think your pitch is really about the enemy trying to claim him as one of their own. What do you mean by that? Who is the enemy? Why are they trying to claim him and what could this mean for Jonas? That’s your pitch. More along the lines of, “Jonas Pride is a man who lives alone and works alone. He’s never needed the touch of another until he meets Maria—a woman who makes him crave her touch and also promises to be the one person who can destroy him...”? Okay, that wasn’t very good at all, but I think you get the picture. We need to get to the conflict in the plot. The external conflict.

10. tammie
At the Knickerbocker Hotel in Chicago, James meets and falls in love with Mara who is planning her wedding to another man. After a night discovering that the lives they each have planned might not be right, the two make a pact to meet each year no matter the status of their lives. Once A Year is an updated version of the Alan Alda movie, Same Time, Next Year. Alternating points of views Mara and James hit heavy topics that touched each decade from the mid 70’s all the way to 2002.

Hmm. I have to admit that I’m immediately turned off by the fact that it’s an updated movie. I never saw the movie, but let’s face it, even with the biggest Hollywood stars on board, few updated versions of old movies do well. I think a book would be a disaster. In other words, there’s no need to tell anyone that. So on to the real pitch. Is the book really about the fact that they make plans to meet each other each year? Or is it about what happens each year? I have a hard time picturing how this will be written and what the conflict will be. Is it a series of vignettes taking place on the same day in a new year, or do we follow one of the characters and see how she deals with this relationship as well as her own life? As you have this written now I don’t see what the story is at all.

11. antony
(Comic crime)
A bigamist conman dies and leaves behind the score from his last job and a team he hasn't yet paid. When the team make plans to steal the money they're owed, the first question they have to answer is: which wife did he leave it to?

Your first line didn’t interest me at all. In fact I was sort of irritated at how uninterested I was (yes, that can happen), but your second line made me laugh out loud. That’s a good sign. In other words, the pitch should probably not be about the con man, but about the team. What about something like this, “A team of con artists is left with one baffling question after the death of their bigamist leader: which wife now holds the score from the last job? In a series of escapades...”? In other words, I really need to know what happens now and what kind of book this is. Is it a bigamist Italian Job? Or is it The Usual Suspects? What’s the conflict for this team besides finding the wife, because if that’s the only conflict, all we have to do is drive from house to house and search under mattresses (so to speak).

12. elizabeth bemis
Megan Miller is on her honeymoon (sans groom) in an effort to get over the louse who dumped her days before her wedding. So far, she’s met a guy who isn’t what he seems, been shot at, jumped overboard into (potentially) shark infested waters and stranded in the Mayan jungle with nothing but the clothes on her back and a copy of the Girls’ Guide to Hero-Hunting and an undercover FBI Agent named Rey Rodriguez. So far, she’s ignored the book’s every piece of advice, and yet, Rey is proving time and again to be her hero. The question is: will he still be her hero, after their “holiday”?

***Please note: this author submitted a later, updated version, but since I’d already critiqued this one she’ll get critiques on both. You can see if the changes she submitted made a difference.

I hate to say this, but been there done that. There have been many books and millions of book proposals about a bride taking the honeymoon alone. I wouldn’t even bother to mention it. I need to know what makes this book really different. I suspect this is romantic comedy, but we need something more. Does the Girls’ Guide to Hero-Hunting play a huge role in the story? If so, that’s your pitch. Your pitch is to show how that book is influencing her decisions, and not in the best ways. We’ll also need to know a little more about why she might be shot at and stranded in the jungle.

And that’s it for today. Great work! Keep an eye out for the next group.