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.



Kate Douglas said...

Hey, Jessica! Since you're my agent, can I get you to write my next pitch? Damn, you're GOOD! Really enjoying these.

Aimlesswriter said...

Great advice again. I think I'm actually begining to "get" this. Now I read the queries and can see whats missing. I was in your class at the NJRWA and was amazed at how quick you could do this by just hearing pitches from the audience. Perhaps we could call you the Pitch Doctor?
Now we need to know how not to sound like a studdering fool when we actually do this face to face. Crib notes?

bob said...

I think the other plus side of perfecting the pitch is it also helps if your in the middle of wip and maybe losing direction.

The pitch once mastered keeps you on task and focused. At least thats what I'm finding as I try to rework my pitch.

This has got to be time consuming but Jessica know that it is greatly appreciated!

Anonymous said...

Are these "pitch" examples intended to be one part of a more detailed query letter or intended for use to describe to an agent/editor face to face?

Because to me they sound like the "book description" part of a query letter. Am I missing something?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the time you are taking to help us.

Colleen-the coma story called Soul Jar

Anonymous said...

Hey Jessica -

You made my day! I'm anon 10:32. Now all I have to do is explain the incredibly intricate plot of my biomedical thriller in 25 words or less.

Oh yeah, and small detail, I still have to finish the rewrite of the damn thing and edit it. But at least I have the opening line of my query.


April said...

Again, thank you. I am beginning to think I know what you're going to say once you come to mine..

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

Anon 8:58

these are actually both. There's no real reason you need a verbal pitch that's separate from the pitch you give during a face-to-face pitch appointment. If done right it should be able to be one and the same.


Christine Carey said...

Oh awesome! After reading these pitches, I'm getting a much better idea of what mine is lacking and how it needs to be reworked. Thanks so much!

Lauren J and Acid Art said...

Jessica, thanks so much! I like your suggestion a lot, and will work on making my pitch stronger and more extraordinary.

Anonymous said...

I've just decided to start looking at what agents are talking about. I find all the information very valuable.

I'm staring at my query letter and trying to figure out how to get my pitch less than my six sentences.

A lady in one of my groups has been trying to walk us through 'high concept', and my mind is rebelling.

Thanks for putting all this on your blog. I will have to see if I have the guts to throw myself out there.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:05 - If you haven't yet done so, check out and click on "How to write a query" under "Wrtiers" at the top of the page. It's very helpful.

I've sent my query out in many different forms - never just 6 sentences - and received responses all over the board. I don't believe there is just one magic formula. A number of different formats will work depending on the project, the agent, the agent's frame of mind when they open your letter, etc., etc.

Jessica's critques, I believe, are specific to the queries left on her blog for this exercise. I'm guessing her responses would vary depending on some of the many variables I listed above.

Anonymous said...

This is SO generous of you. Thank you. I missed the initial submission, so I haven't posted my pitch. But now I will.

Of course, I have the advantage of Rounds 1-4, so the pressure's on!