More critiques for you. I’ve seen a lot of great pitches so far. Here’s the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch, and you should be able to link back to all previous critiques if necessary.
72. Dead Man Walking
Jessica had it all - her own agency, a popular blog, and even a man who liked watching Oprah with her. But when someone steals her egg salad sandwiches from the office fridge on the morning of the annual Festivus Potluck, Jessica finds herself smack in the middle of a mystery. With toe-hair curling prose, BROUHAHA AT BOOKENDS shows what happens when an obnoxious slushpile-reader-who-doesn't-swing-her-arms-when-she-walks meets up with the agent who ruined her life with a simple form reject.
I have printed this out and hung it on my wall. Not only did it make me laugh out loud, but of course it’s a book I’m dying to read ;) Thanks, Dead Man, it’s definitely the break I needed. And brilliant as well. I’m really impressed. And of course who wouldn’t want to read a mystery with a literary agent protagonist?
Set in a nearly empty college in the final stages of closure, my novel The Campus is a 103,000-word thriller. Kiley is a theatre tech major who excels behind the scenes, but in a single, terrifying night, she is propelled center stage when the school’s few remaining students are threatened by a group of masked men whose motives are not what they seem.
In a story of mayhem, secrets and loyalty (not to mention hammers, hydrochloric acid, pancakes and the gates of the Emerald City), Kiley – a heroine with moxie rather than muscles – must do whatever it takes to rescue her ex-boyfriend, protect newfound allies and keep herself alive until morning.
This has potential. I think you need to be a little more straightforward, though. I would also eliminate the line about hammers to Emerald City. If this is a thriller, you want your pitch to remain thrilling (and suspenseful) even if you have light comedy in your book—adding it to the pitch can diminish that sense of suspense you want the reader to feel. I think that the pitch is a little shorter. “Kiley is a theatre tech major who excels behind the scenes and never desires center stage, but in a single terrifying night that’s exactly where she finds herself. When a group of masked men take over the theatre, demanding ????, only Kiley, hidden in her ????, is the one left to save them.” Or something along those lines. My concern overall is that I’m not feeling that this is really something that grabs my interest. College students in a theatre don’t have that “grab me and read me” quality. So my question is do your masked men? Are their motives ones that might attract readers?
A Lady's Revenge is an edgy, sensual romance set in 1805 England, between a beautiful, dedicated British Operative and a resourceful English Earl, who shows her how to trust and love again.
Snoooze! This shows me absolutely nothing different about your book. The opening line gives me no sense of voice. It sounds like it’s a description from a review. Get into it and get excited. "Lady Vanessa Gray is a British Operative with ????, but when she’s left investigating Earl Jonas Frank...." Do you see what I mean? We need to know what your real hook is and everything in your description reads like almost any other historical romance. I suspect the British Operative is your real hook, so run with that.
75. anon 9:21
MARIAH, once a foundling but now the most powerful woman in the Marches, has a tongue that flicks like a lash. LINDEN, the ruler who once shared her bed with his half-brother, is her most frequent target. Mariah is tempted to withdraw from Linden’s council of advisors. Yet, she can’t abandon the descendants of the people who fought at her side during the Rebellion four centuries ago because Linden is showing signs of his mother's madness. Then, her granddaughter is used as bait in a plot to overthrow Linden's rule.
I have no idea what you're talking about. I have no sense if this is a romance, mystery, historical novel, or SF/Fantasy. Is your conflict and is your hook really that she has a sharp tongue? And what do I care if she withdraws from the council? What impact is that going to have? I assume that Mariah, Linden, and his half-brother were all lovers? What does that have to do with anything? I don’t get any real sense of conflict in this, and because of that I have a difficult time really helping you take it in a new direction.
76. Ryshia Kennie
Caught in the middle of an intrigue she doesn’t understand, in a country she once fled, reporter and freelance writer, Claire Linton, has to learn fast. What began as a trip to Cambodia to find her maternal relatives, confront her past and the long ago escape from the Khmer Rouge, has turned deadly. She becomes an involuntary mule when she purchases a souvenir, a Buddha bust. Two men follow her and both want the bust. But it is the one called Simon, the expat American, who scares her. His kisses are treacherous, fogging an already dangerous present. The biggest story of her career finds her caught in the middle of a heroin smuggling operation where she soon learns that the only one she can trust is herself.
I think this has potential. It’s definitely interesting. I think it could be tightened even a little more, and you could address the conflict with greater urgency. Especially since this is supposed to be a thriller? “Caught in the middle of an intrigue she doesn’t understand, in a country she once fled, reporter and freelance writer Claire Linton has to learn fast. What began as a trip to Cambodia to find her maternal relatives and confront her past has turned deadly.” And here is where it gets shaky for me. Are the two men following her cops? And what is the story? Is it the heroin smuggling? If so, is she really concerned about the story if she is actually it? I think your next sentence is more along the lines of, “caught in the middle of a heroin smuggling operation and what promises to be the biggest story of her career, Claire...” I’ll leave the rest to you. But keep the suspense up. Show us what Claire is really up against.
Great work, everyone. And now to the readers and your feedback. . . .
With some of these queries-when you ask the questions to clarify the hook I find myself really wanting to know where the author is going. Like the college theater--why would someone need something from there? (I do a lot of behind the scenes theater work. It's all smoke and mirrors. What could someone possibly want from there?)Who are those men following Claire? And what the heck happened to the egg sandwich???
Do you ever find yourself wondering about some of your rejections? Not why you rejected-I'd imagine theres just too much on your desk for that- but if what the real story could be?
I'm so glad you liked it, Jessica. Even though it's a fake query, your feedback couldn't have come at a better time. Thank you for brightening my day.
I think when I posted this I was half-goofing around, but also trying to see/show how easy it is to write a hook for something you're not emotionally attached to. If only it were so easy to do for our real novels!
#72 has it all - conflict, drama, humour. And it has an unusual setting that I want to read more about, simply to get an insight into a world not usually open to me. We've seen far too many novels about people-who-work-in-offices, or even lawyers and bankers and magazine reporters - but I can't recall a novel about an agent.
Go and write that thing!
As per the last one about Claire and the Khmer Rouge-- I think that sounds really interesting. I agree with Jessica about the tightening towards the end of the paragraph, but otherwise it's a great pitch.
I would totally buy "Brouhaha at Bookends." The pitch is dead on, man.
Anon # 75 might do well to use this sort of pitch example to par down his/her plot into workable pitch form.
All ___ (Main character) wants to do is _____ (MC's goal), but when _____ (antagonist) does ____ (antagonist goal) and then ___ (plot point happens), the Main Character is forced to, ____ and then ____ (overcome obstacles) before she can ____ (main character's goal).
Hope that made sense. There are many such templates for this -- Miss Snark's archives has them broken down into, when X does this then Y and Z has to happen before WZ can... But you get the idea.
(good grief I hope that made sense.)
I laughed out loud the first time I read the pitch for Brouhaha at Bookends, and it still makes me snicker. Sure, it's a joke, but even so, it works. Loved it. Great job.
I loved Brouhaha at Bookends, and, Dead Man, you make a good point about how easy it is to write a hook for something we're not attached to. Maybe the lesson in there is to write the hook first and THEN the story.
Friends don't let friends write (their own) pitches
Maybe the solution is, trade novels with someone, and write each other's pitch. Of course, you'd have to be the kind of friends who'd read each other's entire unpublished novel. Would you still remain friends at the end of the exercise? Hmm...I think the template thing-y + a little informal "market research" + perusal of both successful and unsuccessful pitches will do the trick...at least that's my tack.
Perhaps it speaks volumes about the (lack of) excitement in my life, but this Christmas, my big treat for myself is...I'm making a fruitcake from scratch! And as well: Rewriting my pitch/query letter! You know, just set aside time to hammer the dang thing out.
To each their own...
I'm going to have to admit here I'm as lost as a goose in a snow storm.
I plan to pitch Paladin's Pride at the Surrey conference next year if I don't have an agent by then. I'm beginning to see things that don't work and why, but I'm not sure I have a grasp of what will work. I think Dead Man Walking has it exactly right.
That brings me to another question. If your novel is the first in a series, do you mention that in a pitch or would that make the agent run backwards?
Loved #72 - I am completely into the literary agent detective. Our literary agent could solve crimes by relating them to rejected queries/mss: "Hmm, strangled with a candy cane just like in that Serial Killer Elf book I rejected in '92..."
Plus there must be great market of hopeful writers who'd be instant fans to see the inner, secret workings of literary agencies...
Also loved Wanda B.'s comment about friends. I just helped a friend on a pitch--and probably learned as much from giving advice as from trying to do my own.
Dead Man is right about emotional attachment. It's so difficult to pick only one or two points to pitch an 80,000 word novel that you slaved over for two years. It's like picking out only one photograph that brings out the whole personality of your child.
I think it's about forty more before you get to mine, and I'm already considering changing it. At this rate I'll get my feedback by my birthday in June!
Jessica, you're a superwoman!
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