Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 14

I hope you’re not getting bored with these yet. I think we’re finally well beyond the halfway mark. Thanks, everyone, for submitting and commenting, and please continue to do so. I think making this a forum where everyone can improve her pitch is terrific. This has been fun for me. Here’s the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch, and you should be able to link back to all previous critiques if necessary.

77. jaxpop
Making the choice to risk your own life to rescue a friend requires great courage and selflessness. Add having to abandon $15,000,000 in gold during the process raises the stakes significantly. Following through on it, as a fifteen year old, provides reason for pause, but for Jack, the commitment must be made in an instant.

My first concern is that grammatically this is really awkward. Wouldn’t it be stronger just to say, “. . . Abandoning $15 million in gold in the process takes even greater selflessness, but for 15-year-old Jack the decision must be made in an instant when . . .”? I think we need just a little more here. I love the opening two lines, but I think we need to know a why or a what happens to force this decision.

78. anon 11:21
'See Lotty Run' is an 85,000 word Romantic Thriller:
Lotty killed her baby didn't she? With a new face and a new start, it all seems to be working out. Till she falls for a cop.

It’s missing that special oomph. My first concern is the question: Did she or didn’t she kill her baby? I wouldn’t advise starting with a question and certainly not this one, it doesn’t entice me. Why not just say, "After accidentally (you’ll need to let us know immediately how sympathetic we can be for this character) killing her own baby, Lotty starts out with a new face and a new start...”? I hope your entire conflict is not that she’s fallen for a cop. That’s not enough and, truthfully, pretty easy to get out of. You just walk away. Something more has to be happening to Lotty in this story. Something to really up the suspense. If this really is a romantic suspense I need to see the suspense in your pitch and not the romance. I’m not quite as concerned with that. If, however, you’re calling it a thriller, you need to up the stakes even more. Agents will expect a lot of fear in a thriller. We need to see that in the pitch.

79. JLT
Becky Miller is stunned to discover that her husband, Walter, is having an affair with a mentally challenged cocktail waitress. Even worse, Walter’s girlfriend has suggested that she and Walter would both be better a lot off if Becky were permanently removed from the picture. Becky thus decides to teach Walter a lesson that he’ll never forget, but as she sets her scheme into motion, things go tragically wrong and Becky suddenly finds herself in danger of becoming the principal victim of her own carefully constructed plan…

I’m sure I’m going to take a hit for this, but you want honesty, right? From your first sentence I would reject this. I have a really, really hard time with the fact that her husband is having an affair with someone who is mentally challenged. Granted, there are definitely extremes to this definition, but my first thought is that if he’s having an “affair” with someone who is mentally challenged then he is as bad as a pedophile. In other words, he’s clearly taking advantage of someone and the least of your concerns is their plot to do away with Becky. I think the real concern is that she’s married a man who is essentially a criminal. To rectify this you’ll need to clarify how challenged this waitress is, and I’m not sure that needs to be done in the pitch. Hopefully it comes across better in the book. Beyond that, though, I think your real hook is that, “Becky discovers her husband’s affair and in an attempt to teach him a lesson things go tragically wrong. Instead of simply enacting revenge on her cheating man, Becky finds herself in danger...” I think you need a little bit more, a little bit more of an idea of how dangerous the danger is, but I hope you get the idea.

80. Jduncan
Pathology Assistant, June Marigold is moving up in the world thanks to the magical ring given to her by her mother, which allows her to see and speak to the dead. After solving a notorious, deadend case, June found herself with a brand new apartment up in the Thirties, high above the dreadful waterways of a now flooded lower Manhatten. But when the corpse of a merman shows up in the morgue and then mysteriously vanishes overnight, June finds herself caught up in an ongoing struggle between the Mer and a corrupt part of NYC that wants the City's newest residents permanently removed. Having to delve into the murky underwater world of the lowest Manhatten is the last thing June wants, especially accompanied by the mysterious and unnerving Mer, Bolen, who serves her pagan mother and absurdly refers to June as 'Princess.' The entire problem would have been washed away if, when she tried returning the stupid ring to her mother, June hadn't discovered the power to see the dead didn't lie in the ring at all, but in her.

Too long! Let me ask you this: What really matters to the core of your story? In other words, if you want to attract a reader, what is your biggest hook? Is it that the ring came from her mother? That she’s moving up in the world? That she lives in the Thirties? No. I think the real core of this is that she’s a pathologist with the ability to see and speak to the dead. That’s amazing. That’s a book I want to read. The rest of it is just padding. The rest is what creates the book and builds your characters. A pathologist who can see and speak to the dead and is forced to use her powers to uncover a struggle between the Mer and the residents of NYC. I like this idea a lot; however, based on your pitch, my conclusion is that you don’t have a very fleshed-out story. That you’re trying to do too much and not really focusing on writing a great, amazing, and really coherent plot.

81. Jeanne
Neska has never been out of her native mountains and knows nothing about leading armies or defeating a usurper. She has never cast a spell or decided the course of a kingdom. All she knows is that the usurper has killed the king for the throne and had her own family murdered for their loyalty. Neska is on the run, and has no idea how she will surivive much less bring about justice. But all that will change when a mysterious mage dies transferring his tattoos and his magical power to her.

The pitch here is what happens when the mysterious mage dies and what really happens next. To me the fact that Neska has never been out of the mountains, etc., is merely backstory. Why not shorten, tighten, and get to the point faster? I’m also not entirely sure what’s going on here. Is Neska related to the king? Why is she responsible for bringing justice? And what is this story really about? Is it about Neska being on her own, outside of the mountains, or is it really what happens after the mage dies? I think you need to give a better sense of who Neska is as well as a better sense of what the story is really about. I assume it’s about the need to bring justice, but from whom and why?

82. wplasvegas
Secret Lore of the Dolphins is an epic story about a seven year old girl shipwrecked in the Bermuda Triangle, who is rescued, then befriended by dolphins, and taught their language. Now an adult, she returns to civilization appointed as, "Ambassador of the People of the Sea to the People of the Land."

Try not to give any pitch that says something along the lines of, “title is an...” It immediately reads like book report material and takes the life out of the pitch. What about something like, “When seven-year-old Tina is shipwrecked, alone, in the Bermuda Triangle, she learns to rely on a group(?) of dolphins to teach her survival....” Reading that, however, I immediately think this is a YA book, and a great idea at that. It’s only when I read your next line that I’m utterly confused. What exactly is this book about? I assume it’s not about the girl living on the island and getting to know the dolphins, but instead about her life as an adult. What does that entail and what is her conflict? Most important, though, what exactly is the Ambassador of the People of the Sea to the People of the Land and what does all of that mean?

Now I turn it over to the readers. And don’t slack off on me. If I can keep coming back with critiques, comments, and suggestions, so can you. We’ve got a lot more coming!



Anonymous said...

Thank you for your critique. I am getting clearer now on what agents are looking for. I must admit, the book report angle never occurred to me. I shall have to think about that for a while. Do you think it is better to simply not mention the name in the pitch?

A direct result is that I have cut five sentences out of eleven and really like the six I am left with.

Merry Christmas, and if I see Santa before next Tuesday, I'll mention your name.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't sleep, cut the title, don't miss it, still have six sentences.

You're right it's not a report, and it's not a commercial either.

Going night night now.

Diana said...

When I read the first line of JLT's pitch, I, too, first thought, "Oh, that poor woman" about the mentally challenged person, not the wife. Is the fact that she's mentally challenged a very important fact, or could it be left out?

Merry Monteleone said...

I wondered about that pitch, too, I even half wondered if the author meant the waitress was 'mentally challenged' in the literal sense or if she was inferring that the mistress was ditzy.

Otherwise I liked the pitch, but the whole implication that the mistress is the one being taken advantage of here makes it a less palatable idea...

Aimlesswriter said...

Another great round of critiques-Thank you Jessica!
The one about the fifteen year old and the money-I think I needed more information. Why was this happening?
-Everyone thinks she killed the baby? Ewww, maybe it would be better, "wrongly accused of" so I can feel some sympathy for the main character?
-the one about the mentally challenged waitress-I was hoping it was just a "dumb blond" type thing and not really mentally challenged which means something entirely different. Would have been better that way-if the waitress was just a ditzy dumb blond then I like that one and would probably read it. Not sure about what the suspense is there, but sounds like it could be interesting. How does the wife's plan backfire?
-Loved the heart of the one about the flooded city and merman but it kind of rambled. I think tightened up that could be a great read.
Some of these make me wish this book was already published so I could read it now. Lots of creative people out there!

Anonymous said...

I've recently been hooked on the urban fantasy genre, and Jduncan, your story sounds so promising! The Mer haven't been done to death yet :D But I agree with Jessica, the hook is a bit muddy. I like the last line a lot, and the bit about 'washing away'. I think you could tighten this to be very compelling. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

For pitch # 78 --

"... it all seems to be working out until she falls for a cop."

Cops are easy to fall for, it's the uniform, I think. What specifically about THIS cop is gonna cause this girl some major upheaval, in the form of PLOT POINTS, that create the rest of the book? Does he have secrets of his own? Is he really a cop? Is he only pretending to "like" her but is really investigating her?

Josephine Damian said...

Jessica, please keep 'em coming. With every crit. you give, we all learn more about what works and what doesn't in a pitch.

When I first saw it posted, I too had trouble with the story line about the mentally challenged waitress. His choice of mistress says more about the husband's character than the wife's reaction to the affair.

Who are we rooting for? The husband and wife, thus making the mentally challenged waitress the villian? Or are we rooting for the husband to make a life with a type woman who's usually shunned and overlooked as a romantic interest, thus making the wife the vilian?

Or do we see the husband as some predator looking to take advantage of someone perceived as being weak thus making the husband the villian?

Anonymous said...

Not one happily ever after in the bunch!!

I still can't get the baby killer out of my head. I shrank back immediately. I am hoping she was a victim of circumstance or wrongly accused and it just didn't come through in the blurb. And then the mentally challenged waitress that wants to kill the wife ... hmmmm.... I must be in too jolly of a mood to fall in love with these stories at this time of the year.

Ho Ho Ho ... .and mine is coming up soon....yippeee. It's so much easier to read other people's entries with fresh eyes than our own because we know our own stories so well. This is really helpful and the best present under my tree this year Jessica. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

For #77 --

Why is having to abandon 15,000 in gold hard for the Main Character? Sure, everyone needs money but most people are honest. If the character is 15 presumably his parents have jobs and provide for him. Does he need that money for something nefarious, something he can't tell anyone about, to help someone? To save himself?

Also, it isn't clear what the plot is... so he saved a friend and lets go of 15,0000 -- what is the story? What is his journey? What does he WANT? He's got to want something, otherwise there is no book.

In other words, what set of plot points are now going to happen because he DIDN'T keep that money? Or because he DID save that friend?

I have no idea if this is a Pirates of the Caribbean type adventure book or a contemporary YA.

Anonymous said...

Number 82 --

You've done well to set up the backstory of the shipwreckd girl who is now the Sea Ambassador -- but what does she face AS the Sea Ambassador? What is her goal? Who is her opposition? The previous Ambassador? The mother she thought was dead but now discovers is alive?

What are her obstacles in reconcilling the people of the land and sea?

What tragic consequences does she face if she is not able to reconile these two fragmented societies?

You've got to give us a clue, otherwise we don't know why it's important.

Anonymous said...

Jessica, a quick question: When you recommend leaving out the formula of "Title is ...", do you mean only in pitches, or in queries, as well?

If it's "yes" to the latter, do you have recommendations on the most effective ways to slip in the title/genre/word count info?

Thanks for all your hard work!

Merry Monteleone said...

anon 9:31

In Response to #77

"Why is having to abandon 15,000 in gold hard for the Main Character? Sure, everyone needs money but most people are honest. If the character is 15 presumably his parents have jobs and provide for him. " -

In the pitch it was 15 million... seriously, who wouldn't find it hard to abandon 15 million? I tend to disagree that most people are honest but that's opinion, and even if his parents do provide for him, it's 15 million!!!! Name me an adult whose mouth wouldn't water, let alone a teen...

Otherwise I agree that they need more of a hook to pull us in. The pitch is uncertain to me and a little confusing, though that doesn't mean the ms is.

Karen Duvall said...

I bet ninety percent of the pitches we've been seeing in Jessica's critiques have already been rewritten based on the critiques of others that came before.

This has been a really amazing workshop, Jessica! I'm looking forward to more.

Anonymous said...

Re: mentally retarded. I thought, if the woman is more ditzy-blond or if this is somehow joking, it's tacky, and if it's NOT, I'm not sure the writing could pull off such a situation. As others have pointed out, she'd have a very different problem with her husband than that he is having an affair.

Jeannie Ruesch said...

#78: First, did Lotty kill her child? I need to know the answer to that before I pick up the book. Because if she's wrongfully accused, there is sympathy. Second, if she got a new face and a new life to run away from her old one, the child dying is going to haunt her. How does that affect her new life? As for the major conflict of the story, I would think the conflict comes when Lotty's old life crashes into her new one - and the fall-out.

#79: The mentally challenged waitress. Are we talking a disability such as Down Syndrome or mentally unhinged, as in Fatal Attraction Glenn Close?? I think the difference really needs to be illustrated. If it's the first, the waitress gets my sympathy. If it's the second, I'd tell Becky to run for the hills.

#82: I'm really intrigued by the idea, but I'd really like to see more of what the story focus is.

C.J. said...

re: JLT's #79 - if handled well (with a realistic and empathetic view of the mentally challenged character) i think this story could be an intriguing and quality story. my hang up here is that after the first sentence the story sounds more plot driven and less character driven - which is fine, or good even, but for this set of characters i, personally, would rather read less of a pointed story about them and more of a story with blurry lines between what's right and wrong, between needs and desires, etc...

i know i'm inferring an awful lot from just a few sentences - but hey, that's the intention of a pitch i suppose.

Beverley Kendall said...

I'm going to totally agree with you Jessica on the pitch about the man having an affair with the mentally challenged woman. When I read that, I just thought not my thing. He's not even a man I remotely want to read about.

Loren DeShon said...

This is a nit-noid, but I think "a fortune in gold" rolls of the tongue better than "$15,000,000 in gold" and reads better, too.

15 million is an arbitrary number (why not 25 million? 3 billion?) and may be an insane amount of money or just enough to buy a latte at Starbucks depending on the time period.

Remember Dr. Evil - He demanded A MILLION DOLLARS from the world's leaders and they laughed and said, "Uh, okay."

Thanks, Jessica.

Christine Carey said...

I loved #80. Even if it's a bit on the long side, that's definitely a book I'd like to read.

Kate Douglas said...

Dramabird wrote: Jessica, a quick question: When you recommend leaving out the formula of "Title is ...", do you mean only in pitches, or in queries, as well?

Unless you've got a really super catchy title (I'm thinking of MJD's "Undead and Unwed") I would suggest leaving it out, since the editor who eventually offers a contract on the manuscript will most likely want to change it.

ORION said...

I always write my blurb "hook" as I write the first draft of my novels. Reading these really help my eye for distilling my story.
It helps me perfect my pitch so I don't waste my agent's time. I can learn from these examples.
(I'm kind of a lurker who was provoked to comment because of the previous blog entry LOL)

Stacia said...

Perhaps a better description for the cocktail waitress--assuming the husband isn't actually having an affair with someone mentally challenged (and being a good cocktail waitress? Not a job for the stupid, really. I've done it. You need a great memory and the ability to think on your feet) would be "intellectually challenged".

Anne-Marie said...

I just wanted to say a big thank you to you, Jessica, for giving us the opportunity to see how an agent reacts to all sorts of different pitches.

There are some very interesting ideas in this round, and it's funny how much I agree with your assessments (and can already hear your voice saying mine will be too long when you get too it!) although I would never see a lot of what you wrote about without having it pointed out first. I guess it really shows how professional the agent's eye is.

Julie Weathers said...

Thanks for continuing to do these. It continues to be a good learning process.

#77 wouldn't interest me, but that's a personal opinion. I agree the wording is awkward. I am curious as to what genre it is. As a YA, it might have broad appeal.

#78 I don't like opening with a question, but again, personal preference. Also, a baby killer would not stir any sympathy with me.

JLT Same comments as everyone else. I am hoping the waitress isn't actually mentally challenged. I don't see how she could be handicapped if she's a cocktail waitress as that job requires a good memory, quick thinking and a sparkling personality, normally. The ending is interesting. Plots gone wrong are always fun.

#80 This appeals to me even though it needs to be tightened. I see a lot of promise with this work. I would definitely read it if the book read well.

I always read jacket hype, first few pages and then a few random pages of a book by someone I'm not familiar with. So, given my haphazard test reading, the writing has to appeal as well as the premise.

#81 was difficult. There are so many revenge stories out there, but if it is unique enough I'll read it. I like the part about the mage transferring his powers.

#82 is an interesting idea. I just don't know what the conflict is.

"I bet ninety percent of the pitches we've been seeing in Jessica's critiques have already been rewritten based on the critiques of others that came before."

Not mine. Frankly, it was easier to write the book than the pitch. How do you distill down a convoluted mystery with characters, who walk around in your head for months, into a few lines that would interest anyone?

Yes, I will keep reading and studying, but I am still lost as a goose in a snowstorm about how pitch my work. Hopefully, the lightbulb will click on soon.

Kate Douglas said...

Julie wrote: I am still lost as a goose in a snowstorm about how pitch my work.

There's a trick I learned ages ago. I started out my "writing career" writing commercials for radio--they had to be exactly 30 or 60 seconds long, depending on the spot. I would watch the second hand on the clock (this was LONG before digital!) and see if I could get all the basic points in order verbally before writing the spot. It worked really well.

Try setting a timer for thirty seconds and "tell" an imaginary someone what your story is about. It's amazing what the brain will do when given a time frame to work within. You might find that you automatically distill your work down to its most important parts. (and use a recorder, if you've got one, just in case you do stumble upon the perfect pitch!)

jjdebenedictis said...

...but I am still lost as a goose in a snowstorm about how pitch my work.

Think about the events that draw a reader into the story in the first place: the book's inciting incident, and all the things that either increase the stakes, acerbate the conflicts, or deepen the mystery.

Those are the things to concentrate on in your pitch. You haven't got space to outline the whole plot, so just concentrate on the story's build-up.

(I've got a blog post linked in my sidebar that goes into this in more detail, if you want to click on my name. :-) )

Julie Weathers said...

Kate, that's a good idea. I'm going to try that. It might also help to read what I am posting before I hit send. Obviously, there is a missing to in my comment.

That idea is actually gold since I plan to go to some conferences next year.

Julie Weathers said...

Thanks, JJ, good advice. I will check that out. Behold the power of blog. These critiques and suggestions are wonderful.

David Ebright said...

Thanks Jessica for your critique. It was kinder than what was deserved. I threw it together in a few minutes thinking I was just making a deadline & hit the send button (then cringed the next day when I read it). Won't do that again. I also had a bad case of tunnel vision and only focused on one small part of the story. It is YA, the story is about a 4 friends & their summer adventures in my haunted hometown of St Augustine Florida. Thanks also Merry, for being so gracious in coming to my rescue. Hope everyone has a great Christmas. I'm taking the week to do nothing but write (& begin working on my real pitch). Y'all are awesome.

Anonymous said...

Jessica, Thank you for your comments about my entry (#79), and thank you to the others who commented as well. Obviously, my opening line was a complete misfire. Let me hasten to say that the waitress in question is not "mentally challenged" in the literal sense. She is, as one person suggested, merely ditzy and inconsiderate of others' feelings, as is readily apparent in the opening pages of the book.

In describing her as "mentally challenged," I was attempting in a somewhat irreverent fashion, to contrast her with Becky the protagonist, who is an intelligent, interesting and considerate woman, one who would never stoop to poaching another woman's husband. Obviously, my choice of words was inappropriate.