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.



Anonymous said...

re: therapistwriter

It isn't Vicky Therapistwriter wishes to keep anonymous, it's her participation in AA.

I'm not therapistwriter, just felt compelled to respond.

Love what you are doing, though and wish I had the courage to send my pitch along, as well


Anonymous said...

re: therapistwriter

I thought from what was written it sounded like Letty didn't want her OWN participation in AA blown, aka. her status as a recovering alcoholic. And that was why she didn't want to hand over the list, which I presume she only has because of her connection with AA?

re: kate's fantasy pitch
As a writer of fantasy, one of the comments someone once made to me that I think helps, is that you should introduce absolutely as FEW proper names as possible in a pitch. Especially in fantasy, it gets very confusing very fast if you tell us the name of the: world, nation, emperor, protagonist, magical device, whatever, etc. all in a paragraph or two. Don't know if this advice helps at all, but I thought I would share it just in case it does.

Best of luck to all.
Thanks for doing this. I hope everyone gets as much help as I did with mine. =)

Aimlesswriter said...

"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."
There is the saying that you should be able to pitch your book in a couple of short sentences. (not sure where I read that) Does that not apply to the emailed query? Aside from all the other stuff with query rules--when does the too short is no good-rule apply?
I'd rather write a 400 page book before the dreaded query!
However you're helping ease this pain. Thanks for your insight.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting how different the batches have been and yet I'm starting to already see some of the same problems with different angles. This is really helpful.

I can't wait until mine pops up --- but I'm way down in the middle. I'm trying to hold the last couple queries I was getting ready to send out until mine gets there so I can fine tune!!!

Thanks Jessica!! and to all those brave writers who've put themselves out there to help us all.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


I think that's an interesting statement and I think I too have learned some things in this process. I think you need a really short tag line and a 2-3 sentence pitch that can work both for verbal pitches and your query. If your written query is on point you should be able to use the same thing for a verbal pitch. In the example you used my thought is the author sucked me in, but didn't give me the knock out. In other words, I wanted more and I needed that final oomph to make me jump all over it. Some can do it in one sentence and some might need 2-3.


Christie Craig said...


Great post and interesting to see everyone's thoughts.

Pitching is a talent. One we could all practice.



Unknown said...

this is just apropos of nothing really, but I just wanted to say I admire your dedication, 'cause I was here earlier, and noticed exactly when your post went up. Bookends works some LONG hours...

Josephine Damian said...

That mibster word threw me, so I looked it up. Found this: : One who plays the game of marbles is known as a "mibster."

Not sure though if that was the intended meaning.

I liked the 12-Step mystery idea, thought is was more original tgan Jessica thought because while most PI's/Sleuths are boozers, I thought the 12-step aspect was a different take. Agree that with tightening that pitch could incite some interest.

Jenny said...


Lawrence Block's brilliant Matthew Scudder mysteries have long featured a sleuth whose life centers on AA. If you haven't read them, you are in for a treat!

Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...

Respectfully (no, seriously, respectfully):

I didn't know what a mibster was either.

So I looked it up. It took exactly nine seconds.

Now I know what a mibster is. Great word. I glad I had the opportunity to learn it. It was the precise word for the context. Mibster paints half a dozen trope images with a mere two syllables.

"That's why God made Google." (TM/PP)

And the alternative?: Can you please publish a list of every word you know so I can be sure not to accidentally use one of them in a query?

If you invest in the 254 big box of Crayons, you should be able to use every damn one of them without somebody saying, "What shade of blue is that? 'Midwest Winter Horizon'? Why the hell would you use a color like that?"

Anonymous said...

Ah, Jessica, it seems to be my lot in life to suck you in, but not be able to deliver the knockout, since you've read two of my fulls recently, one more than once, LOL.

I'm not really sure what the difference is between romance and category romance, so I don't know if that's what I'm aiming for or not.

When my friend was attending a conference, she was told "pitches" should be one sentence long, so that's why I only did one sentence. Oops!

Thanks for the critique and maybe you'll be seeing a familiar looking query in your inbox soon.

Anonymous said...


I get what you're saying. "Mibster" is a cool new word to know, and I love when an author expands my vocabulary with their book. But personally speaking, there's no way I'm going to take the time to google a word or check the dictionary while I'm going through a query letter. We receive hundreds of queries a week, and if I have to do research to understand your pitch I'm going to be annoyed and move on to the next one.

Feel free to expand my vocabulary with your manuscript when I can really see the context, but don't do it in a pitch.

Therapist/Writer said...

Many thanks to Jessica for taking the time to do this and to those who've commented on my pitch. This is so helpful! Looks like I need to work on my pronoun clarity; anonymous 2:59 and k.r. were right in that the person who's anonymity was at risk was Letty, not the murder victim. And thanks for Josephine re: your comments on the 12 step focus. Hopefully others will agree!
This has been exciting and so very helpful.
Donna Glaser

Merry Monteleone said...

These are so insightful - I liked the AA murder victim one, it didn't even occur to me that the anonimity factor wouldn't be enough for the protag to keep silent - I just assumed it would be fully fleshed out in the story.

I also didn't know what a mibster was, which kind of threw me off reading the rest of the pitch, so I can see why an agent would just pass on something like that... great word, but I'd need it in context in order to know it's a great word.

Anonymous said...

Re: "Mibster"

Why not just use marble player? I think the problem is children themselves do not use the word mibster. I played marbles as a kid (occasionally), never heard the word mibster before. Use it in your novel somewhere, but not the pitch...how did you the writer learn the word mibster? I certainly didn't learn it in grade school myself...?? Sounds too much like hipster, and also, sounds like maybe some secret clubs kids have, and they give themselves a name...too many possible meanings for a short pitch.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I was surprised and a little confused by Jessica's comments about therapistwriter's pitch. "Most cops or detectives seem to be alcoholics or recovering alcoholics . . what else does Letty bring to the table?"

I thought the fact that the protag is an amateur sleuth/psycotherapist--not a cop--is what made this so interesting. Maybe if she was also a werewolf who could read minds and owned a quilt shop . . .? (I'm kidding.)

Merry Monteleone said...

Wanda b,

"should those of us who have critiques coming up, be able to figure out on our own what's wrong with our pitches..."

I know I'm cringing at my original pitch, only a few small things really, but it's a small amount of space. Mine is a middle grade and I use the character's voice in my pitch - my ten year old informed me after posting that the character wouldn't use the word 'sissy' - on reflection, that's a word my friends would have used at eleven or twelve years old, and I thought I'd done so well at updating the current slang and phrasing. My daughter is now working in an advisory capacity on dialect...

Anonymous said...


I just wanted to jump in here with a distinction, a tag line isn't the same as a short pitch. I like what you did as a tag line, but a tag line is something you use at the very beginning of a query, or at the top of a blurb, and then on promotional items. It is like a poster for Men in Black II saying something like, "Black is Back" on the bottom of the poster.

That doesn't tell us anything about the movie, but it sounds catchy.

A short pitch should be one or two, well crafted sentences that get to the meat and heart of your story.

In my case, my tag line is, "If she loves him, she'll be hunted for the rest of her life, if she doesn't he'll die."

But my pitch goes something like, "Cyani just wants a life of peace after fighting for years in an intergalactic war. As one of the warriors of her planet, she is forbidden by law to touch or be touched. When she is stranded behind enemy lines with a dark and tortured former sex-slave, more than her life could be at risk..."

This shows us the protag's problem, she wants a life of peace, and she is caught behind enemy lines of a war.

It shows us her conflict with the hero, warrior nun vs. ex sex-slave.

And it gives us a sense that this is a dark and romantic space adventure with high stakes. At least I hope it does. LOL

I am curious what Skeletal Remains is about. I wish I could see an actual pitch.

Anonymous said...

Amy M,

Don't feel bad that your pitch was only one-sentence long. I thought that's what Jessica asked for myself when this thread began.

Just take what you can learn from all the examples and then see if you can add oomph to your own one-sentence pitch. That's what I plan to do. I personally would not use a one-sentence pitch during an actual pitch session, whether that's in mail or in person. I submitted a one-sentence pitch to this thread, because I thought that was the requirement. However, when pitching, I would start with a short one-sentence pitch and then go into a two-paragraph pitch from there.

There are so many ways to pitch and so many different ways a pitch can be successful...or suck. That's why threads like this are so great. Jessica is taking the time to tell us and teach us what sort of pitches work for her, and that's great. But some agents look for a tweak of interest in a pitch and other agents want things more spelled out. God love the Internet. It teaches us and confuses us. Could we ask for more? :)

Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...


"What good is Le Mot Juste when nobody speaks French?"

- Dwight W. (TM/PP)

Diana said...

I'm learning a lot, but I'm about to pull my hair out. Try for one sentence. One sentence is not enough. You need to include some plot. Don't include the plot. Compare your ms to other things, but make sure your agent will know what you're talking about.

*Diana thumps head against desk*

I'm thinking someone could make a career out of nothing but reading manuscripts and writing pitches.

Thank you, Jessica, for finding the time to go through these pitches. And thank you, everyone else, for your comments, too. As I said, I'm learning a lot.

Karen Duvall said...

Cindy and Chessie, I concur the tagline vs. the pitch (or hook). And Chessie, I think your warrior nun verses ex-sex slave is FAR more intriguing for a tagline, FWIW. 8^) Just my opinion.

The tagline for my book is: Chalice is a thief who becomes a hero.

That doesn't say enough about the story, but it is the theme. And it's how I start my in-person pitch. I haven't sent out queries for this book yet, but I'll use the tag line in my query when I do (still working on the suckopsis, uh, I mean synopsis. Talk about something tough to write... Sheesh.)

Anonymous said...

Warrior nun vs. ex sex slave is my elevator pitch, LOL

Anonymous said...

I love the AA mystery series pitch. It's a greast hook. The protag's battle for sobriety pitched against the stress of the job ratchets up the tension. That one has legs.

Don't give up.

Therapist/Writer said...

Thanks again for all the encouraging comments! Made my day!
Donna Glaser

April said...

Thanks again! As always. I am looking forward to your next set of critiques. I should print them all out and keep them with me and check mine against your dos and donts before i send anything off...

Anonymous said...

I'm curious, too. Could someone clarify what makes a romance a "category"? I mean, obviously it refers to something Harlequin would publish but ... a bit more, specifically? And, why does the word get thrown around like it's kiss-of-death?

Anonymous said...

There is nothing wrong with category romance as long as that is what you are shooting for.

With the category romances, they have very very very very specific requirements for their stories. I've heard of category authors keeping up on their line's requirements with avid dedication. In order to publish with one of the lines, you have to nail exactly what they are looking for. The good news is, they tell you exactly what they are looking for.

If something sounds "category," it means that the style and voice sound like what authors who write for the lines are aiming for. Since the books tend to be shorter, they also tend to have more focused plots and things.

Category style doesn't work with single title stories. And single title style doesn't work with category.

Does that help?