Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Holiday Critiques #6

Happy New Year's Eve! I hope everyone has been able to take some time off and enjoy a holiday vacation. I know I'm happy to report that I've enjoyed vacation and been very productive at the same time.

Here's yet another critique and here's your link to the original post. Don't hesitate to make your own comments on the pitches I've chosen. I've been pleased and impressed with what some of you have had to say.

Terri said...
If Halli Montgomery hadn’t disobeyed her father, she wouldn’t be dangling from a cross a decade later. But running out of time had her taking chances. If she didn’t get down soon, she’d have to wait two years to be free. Not from the rusted nail that had her bound but from the curse that left her unable to love.
This is an example of a pitch that is potentially intriguing, but in the end far too vague. You hint at a lot of information like her father, the cross, time running out, but give us nothing concrete on what this all means. I think we need to know why she's hanging on the cross and what happens when time is running out. More importantly though I have no sense from this pitch whether this book is contemporary, historical, paranormal or futuristic. I can figure from her name that it's not historical and probably not fantasy, but is it contemporary or paranormal? 

Heidi said...
Some Kind of Normal (literary fiction)

All that stands between her daughter’s life and death is a tenth grade education, a zealous group of Baptist ladies, and 1.8 million Google hits.

Babs’ days, once full of grit-making and house-cleaning, just got a lot harder. Her husband’s growing away from her, her son is suddenly sporting a rainbow colored Mohawk, and her twelve-year-old daughter is on the brink of death. After Ashley faints and seizes in front of her, Babs embarks on a seemingly impossible journey: establishing some kind of normal life around her daughter’s volatile diabetes while not losing her husband, son, and overbearing but well-meaning friends in the process.

But when Ashley develops a rare allergy to insulin – the only medicine that can keep her alive – Babs has to overcome her high-school-drop-out education to find a cure the doctors say isn’t there. In a frantic rush against the clock and Ashley’s quickly dwindling days, Babs turns to the Internet. The answer she discovers is the one no one wants to hear: a risky stem cell operation that pits her against her husband, her faith, and the conservative church that’s been their biggest support.
This is one instance where at first glance this pitch is far too long. This is almost a full page. It seems to me that you have a lot of repetition here. Your second paragraph is really just an introductory version of what your first and third paragraphs are. You need to get to the heart of the story faster. I like your opening paragraph. This is clearly a tagline and not a pitch, but does grab the reader's attention. I don't know that it's necessary, but it does work. And then the heart of the pitch is really the third paragraph. "When Bab's teenage daughter Ashley develops...." That's your book and your hook. What is really, in my estimation, going to grab an agent's attention is your last sentence. That's the conflict and the heart of your story.

Sherrah said...
Some things you can never forget: the touch of your mother's hand on your hair, the smell of your father's hug, your first kiss. The time you tried to fly and everyone mistook it for a suicide attempt, or trying to walk on water and nearly drowning. The day you found out your little brother is dying. Some things stay imprinted on your memory forever - the day your life changed.

Riley Kimball's life has changed. Her twelve year old brother has leukemia and is dying.

Water Walker is a story about family and self-discovery. It is the story of Riley Kimball's freshman year of high school, of her struggle to understand what is happening to her brother and to rediscover a sense of normalcy in her life. As her friendships crumble, her brother's health continues to decline. But even in the darkness that surrounds her, Riley finds hope and strength in unexpected places: a renewed relationship with her older sister, the encouraging words of a jock football coach, the poetry of Emily Dickinson, and most unexpectedly, from within herself.

What's interesting here is that you have an overly long pitch that really tells me nothing and I think that should really show people that more words don't mean a better or stronger pitch. The only line that works is the second paragraph. It's the lead in to what's really going on. From your first paragraph I would gather that this is a paranormal or YA Fantasy about a girl learning to harness her powers, but then we get farther in, it really seems to be about a girl who is struggling with the eventual death of her brother. In other words, what is this book really about? Avoid the line, "Water Walker is the story about family and self-discovery." That says absolutely nothing. I would say 90% of all young adult books are about self-discovery. No one buys a book because it's about family. They buy a book for plot and character. Get specific here. What about her brother dying is changing her life forever? What exactly is happening in this book?

Linda Hall said...
Nephilim, an ancient Biblical race. Children born of the union between the Fallen Ones and the Daughters of Man.

Pandora, half-demon, half-human; born to be bad, but desperate to be good. Possessed by the demoness Lust, she lives in a world of shadow and light and walks the gray in between. For thousands of years she did as she wanted, killed as she wanted; indulged herself in every carnal whim. But now Pandora wants to find some meaning in her life. Problem is even when she tries to be good evil finds her anyway. Vamps have overtaken the city, children are missing and an ancient god has come to life.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, she also has a Grimoran on her tail. Very little is known of the Grimoran, other than their sole purpose in life is to seek out the Nephilim and destroy them. And now one has tagged her. Named Billy, he’s all that’s dangerous, dark, and deadly and arouses every wicked instinct inside her. And yet whenever he has the chance to kill her, he doesn’t. Can she trust him? Her body and heart say yes, but something evil this way comes. Who can she trust? Or is it already too late?
This is another example of a pitch that has an awful lot of words, but doesn't say much at all. You are telling me who Pandora is and what is happening to her, but I really don't get a sense of what this book is about. Is the entire book simply about her searching for meaning in her life while being chased by Billy? Because that sounds a little on the boring side to me. I need more specifics on what is going on. Why she's being chased and what happens during the chase. I also need a better sense, through the story, of what makes this book different from others because it really doesn't stand out to me.

Ella said...
Nicholas is a hard-ass angel with one weakness, Noelle Spencer, who has been his charge since her birth. He’ll fight to the death to keep her safe from the demon world. He has more at stake than fighting demons when he learns the woman he loves has the blood of the Deities running through her veins. Divine blood the rogue demons want to infuse into their next generation of demons. Now Nicholas must face the ultimate test, as legions of demons want to claim her as their queen. If he fails, not only will he lose Noelle, but the balance between angels and demons—good vs. evil—will be turned upside down, ending in disaster.
I think you have a lot of potential here, but it just doesn't have the oomph it needs to stand out. I like the idea of the hard-ass angel, but show us a little more how he's so tough. And I like the idea that she is now wanted by the demons, but I think we need a lot more detail on what exactly is going on and, again, how this book stands out from all other paranormal romances. I love the use of claiming her as the queen. I think that's such a good hook it makes me think your title should be something like The Demon Queen. Now we need to know a little about how she plays into this and whether she knows that Nicholas is her angel. "As a tough guardian angel, Nicholas has one job and that's to protect Noelle Spencer, a no-nonesense human with no knowledge of his existence. That is until it's discovered that Noelle is no normal woman, she has the blood of the Deities running through her and the demons (explain who they are) see her as their queen..."

Have a safe New Year!



Anonymous said...

Jessica, you are one teacher whose classes I wouldn't ever skip. Thank you for all this work, and Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

I think the most difficult thing in these pitches for me is making those words count.
That balance between what's necessary to convey the story and what isn't takes practice for me.
I'm glad your holiday has gone well.
Happy New Year, Jessica!!!

Anonymous said...

Re: Sherrah's

I happen to love literary YA, and this book, since it doesn't have vampires and a girl obsessed with becoming a cheerleader, would be right up my alley.

Lose the entire first paragraph. I hate the lecture sounding feel to it -- telling us what we should cherish and blah, blah, blah, and I also hate the use of the second person "you" in it as if you are talking directly to the reader. You don't need this entire paragraph.

What you do need are some specifics and a central conflict that is clearer.

Maybe this: (?)

...Fourteen-year-old Riley Kimball's life has changed. Her twelve year old brother has leukemia and is dying. Everything she once took for granted has been turned upside down. She can't stomach hanging out at the mall with her friends and talking about hot guys knowing her brother won't be alive next year. None of her friends understand, and she has nowhere to go. Should she even try to live her life, if he is losing hers?

As she slowly loses touch with her friends and all aspects of her former "normal" teen life she ventures out in search of those that can ease her guilt of surviving: her estranged sister, and a hard-ass football coach. In the end, her will to live has to come from within herself. Can the death of the brother she loves spur her to live, or will it crush her futher?

**Thanks so much for all of this Jessica. I really love reading these. Even if you don't pick mine I think I speak for us all when I say that a lot can be learned on the ones you've already done. Happy New Year to you!

Sookie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anita said...

I'm wondering if you could put a little more "oomph" in the pitch by putting it in the voice you're using for the novel.
I, like Jessica, enjoyed the "hard-ass" reference...I think because it feels like it's part of your voice. The rest of the pitch didn't feel as much that way. But I like the idea for the novel. Sounds fun.
On a side note, everyone, I finally started a blog. You can get there from my profile.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

My suggestion for tightening pitches yourself (myself, etc) is to take it apart a line at a time. Does it need to be there? Does it say anything? Does it repeat something? Read the sentences aloud to yourself. Sometimes it helps to ask someone else to read it to you, if you have someone. Hear your own pitch in someone else's voice. I am by means an expert, except that I've gotten a lot of feedback and these are the techniques I've found effective - for me. Also if someone rewrites your pitch for you, make sure you maintain your own voice.

When I started on my pitch I also discovered that the crux of my story had to change. Major rewrites!!! But well worth it.

Good luck with pitching, it's daunting to put yourself out there, I know.

Happy New Year to Jessica and all the blog readers.

Anonymous said...

Re: Linda Hall's

These first three sentences are fragments, on purpose, I think. But they are jarring and need to be reworked.

Example: "...Nephilim, an ancient Biblical race. Children born of the union between the Fallen Ones and the Daughters of Man...."

Try instead: In the ancient Biblical race of Nephilim, children born of the union between the Fallen Ones and the daughters of man... DO WHAT HERE?..."

Example: "...Pandora, half-demon, half-human; born to be bad, but desperate to be good."

Try instead: Pandora, A half-demon, half-human IS designed to be bad, but wants to be good.

Being "designed to be bad" but "wanting to be good" is an excellent conflict, and I'm assuming from the pitch it is the driving force of the book's plot. However, then in the next paragraph, instead of listing the actual plot points of how this conflict is furthered -- what are the specific instances of the plot in which she TRIES goodness and fails -- you start talking about Grimoran and if she can trust him or not.

It's unclear why she NEEDS to trust him? How is that essential to her succeeding in (what I'm assuming is your plot?) to be good instead of bad?

If the plot isn't about overcoming her own "badness" and being good, then obviously I'm way offf base. But my point is, from this pitch, I have no idea what your plot is or why this chick needs to trust the Grim guy in the first place.

A very generic pitch template I use is -- Main Character wants X. Y and Z stand in her way. If she can just R, she might win. But if G happens, she won't get X and even worse, might lose P too.

...Pandora wants to be good and she can if she can just X. But when she encounters Y and Z she fails miserably. Joined by R (the Grim guy, maybe?) she has a chance to redo Z, but if G happens (Grim guy is her enemy, not helper) she'll never get X (goal of goodness), and worse, she might lose P, too (her life).

Hope that makes some kind of sense.

Anonymous said...

These are all great examples of how to tackle the too many words, not enough story problem. Thanks for the insight, Jessica.

Jill Wheeler said...

Happy New Year!

Carolyn V. said...

I know you've been thanked over and over, but I wanted to add my two cents. Thanks for putting this together and showing us how to write a great pitch! (I think mine is more of a tag - darn.)
I can see now what I need to change and what an agent looks at...invaluable =) Thanks again, have a great New Year!

Anna Claire said...

You're invaluable, Jessica. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Oh wow, I get on here and see my pitch has been crittered. I knew it wasn't interesting enough but I just couldn't figure out what to do to help it out. I've never been good with pitches, but your advice and that of Anon 10:23 has really, really helped. I think my problem with this pitch was that I didn't know how much to write. That book is the first of five books and I kept thinking how much of the series should remain a mystery cause that particular bit of info won't show up until book 2 or 3 or whatever. But I can see that I'm definitely gonna have to put more info in there.

Thanks so much! And Happy New Year. :)

Keri Ford said...

Hey, Linda. I believe the rule (ah, guideline? suggestion?) is to pitch only book 1 in your query. Good luck!

And thanks so much, Jessica! They've all been so interesting to read your thoughts on.

Robena Grant said...

Thanks for another round of critiques, Jessica.

What I learned from this exercise is to let my voice show through even though it's a business letter. I always took from my synopsis (which I'd been told was the only time you could tell rather than show) thus the stiff boring query. But no more. 2009 will be my year for not repressing my true voice. Yay!

Happy New Year everyone!

Anonymous said...


While I admit I'm a wannabe published author, I'm amazed at how so many of your readers (and those at other blogs as well) feel so free to offer advice. Mostly about what's wrong with what others submit.

It seems they are competing with you to 'critique' the submission. Often pointing out the smallest grammatical error that you didn't. As if you missed it! Often ignoring story, plot, or saleability, which you don't.

Rather than offering constructive criticism or, heaven forbid, support to those who've exposed not only themselves but their words to the public, they choose to comment on what's wrong. Or mock them for a it.

What their purpose is for doing this, I do not know. At first glance I can not help but think it's to show their superior knowledge of the subject. Of course it might just be to tear down those who're doing what they can not. Maybe, and I find this hard to believe, they don't even realize how hurtful their 'wisdom' is.

Regardless, we all know that writing's less about the words (or grammar) than how those words are put together. That's what makes the readers buy the books and stories live forever.

Anita said...


You must have missed Jessica's request for folks to offer their two cents. Otherwise, I would never have done it. And when I have offered input, I've tried to be very nice about it---God knows that I'm not an expert.

I can understand how you'd think we were all a bunch of nuts, if you hadn't seen the request.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:59, I'm the Anon that offered comments on two of today's entries. I think offering advice on what are clearly sentence fragments, and in one case telling someone to delete a paragraph so the pitch actually gets read past the first sentence, are actually good, solid pieces of advice.

I entered too. I hope to heaven that Jessica and anyone else who sees fit will tear the heck out of my entry if it gets critiqued. I'd sure want to know, after spending a year writing a book, if I had ANY issues -- grammar, no stated plot, run-on sentences, characters with no arc, whatever... (The basis for all critiques is that if info is offered that you do not agree with, simply disregard it.)

This was your quote:
"... Rather than offering constructive criticism or, heaven forbid, support to those who've exposed not only themselves but their words to the public, they choose to comment on what's wrong. Or mock them for it..."

I truly see no one being mocked. And choosing to comment on what is wrong is the entire reason people signed up for the critique, is it not?

You stated: "...writing's less about the words (or grammar) than how those words are put together..."

I agree that good storytelling is a must. However, if an agent easily spots basic grammatical errors in a two paragraph pitch, or worse, reads a pitch and has no idea what the plot is, that agent isn't going to have confidence in that writer's ability to tell the story. Great concepts have to be backed up with good writing.

If something of yours got critiqued and it hurt your feelings, then I apologize. But understand, many of us would kill for this chance to get critiqued; the harsher the better. Better to have it done here than to get form rejects and never know why.

Anita said...


Here's what Jessica said in Holiday Critique #4:

"I also look forward to hearing from readers your thoughts on some of the critiques I'm pitching."

Maybe I took that too far??? I apologize, if I hurt anyone's feelings. I also post as myself, not an Anon.

Anonymous said...

I post as Anon because I don't have a blog. If I used my real name and you googled me you'd get a list of 1,000 same-named people and would have no idea which was me anyway...

Anita said...

Last Anon:

I don't have a problem with Anons. I was just wanting the other Anon to know which comments I posted, so if she/he had a problem with what I said, she'd know what the voodoo doll should look like.

Anonymous said...

Anita-- I see nothing here worthy of a voodoo doll. I save those for editors that reject my book(s).

Happy New Year. May this be the year we all get a book deal.

Kristan said...

Wow, hard at work even over the holidays and new year! Thanks so much.

Out of curiosity, do you have any thoughts or insight about WHEN to do the pitch and/or query letter? Someone here mentioned that in writing their pitch they realized they needed to rewrite some of their story, and I wonder if that's common. (Seems like it could be.) If so, should an author start with a pitch/query and use that as sort of a reality-check when they're writing? (Like, "Hey dummy, THIS is what your book is about. Don't forget it!")

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Below is my submission. It begins with dialogue, which someone once said is not a good way to start a story, but it seems to be the best way to bring the reader into both characters. I would be interested to see what you think as I am considering blogging about how to start stories (

“Cam I’m sorry, but I’m back in that place again. I don’t know why, but I am so confused about us. I love you, I really do, but I just don’t think I can do this. Do you think we were maybe meant to be friends?”
Cam stops massaging Anne’s knee and stares for a moment at his hand. He can see the craggy lines of age developing in the back of his hand. In the crease between his thumb and pointer finger there is a mole that looks something like a liver spot. “Years of drinking?” he wonders to himself. He is not old yet. At 40 he is considered to be in middle age, but he notices his slight slide toward aging. He does not rebound in the morning after a late night like he used to, his stomach sags a bit more, his eyes always look tired and his hair grows a bit greyer with each month. His hands no longer seem as strong as they once did. Perhaps this is because he no longer works with them, but it is one gentler reminder that he is no longer a young man.

James Buchanan

Anonymous said...

Hi James,

If you want Jessica to consider your Pitch, you need to post it in the original pitch thread. It might help to read her previous posts so that you see what I write is true. Also, a pitch is one paragragh long (as per Jessica's original post on this random critique session)
You're in the right place to learn about queries, pitches, and the publishing industry. My best to you!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the word is paragraph, not paragragh:)

Keri Ford said...

Hi, Kristan. I write my query letter and synopsis all while I'm writing my story. It seems to work a lot better for me than to try to think of a way to sum up a 100K book at once.

Sometimes in writing the pitch, something will come to mind that needs to be fleshed out in the story. Often the ground work for whatever idea came to me is already there, I just need to make it stronger throughout the story.

Dal Jeanis said...

Sherrah's pitch worked for me pretty darn well. I can see that as back cover copy with some tightening.

Examples - "jock football coach" is redundant, "has leukemia and is dying" seems redundant, in fact the entire second paragraph is an echo of the first with specifics added. Perhaps putting Riley into the first paragraph, instead of "you", might ground those generalities better. Also, the generatities that aren't actually important to the book (smell of father's hug etc) might be better left out for something specific and relevant.

Unknown said...

Happy New Year!
Thank you so much for your generosity.

Middle aged, and in denial of a severe depression with post traumatic stress disorder diagnosis, Nyima tries to dodge the dark cloud that has followed her from the East Coast to the West. Homeless again, she holds up in a motel retracing her experiences in California as she tries to restore stability. Up until now her faith in God has kept her from taking desperate measures, but now her faith is losing ground fast as she contemplates whether to push forward or step back. Meanwhile she’s haunted by previews of a recurrent nightmare threatening the reawakening of her repressed past.

Woman’s Fiction - 85,814 words

Anonymous said...

Ms. kitty --

As was stated by a different Anon a few posts up, if you want Jessica to consider your pitch you have to post it in the original query post. There is a link to it on THIS Original Post, marked Original Post.

Also, for people that are complaining because a commentor's words might hurt their feelings, go on Read some of those query posts and the comment trail. I dare you. Trust me, you won't be crying about these anymore.

Heidi Willis said...

I know I am very late to this, but I had a crisis over the holiday and am just getting back to normal.

Thank you, Jessica, for taking the time to look at mine (and all of them!). I knew it was long, but it's hard to figure out what to cut. The story is as much about her relationship with her falling apart family as about the diabetes, so they both seemed important.

It's easy to look at other queries and say, "Yeah, but we don't care about that, we only care about this." Much harder to do on my own!

I have revised and cut out more than half, and kept the kicker line, which is my favorite too.

While I am so thankful to have your set of eyes look over mine in particular, I do learn from every one you do, so thanks again.