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Part skills lesson, part confession, part peptalk: this is my brand new radio interview on Your Book is Your Hook radio program, hosted by Jennifer Wilkov.  You'll recognize her as an expert-in-resident here at Pitch U!
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Monday
Jun272011

Be Stunning, Provoke, & 6 Sentence Sunday

Pitch University Best Comment Award, May 2011

TINA1
From the Desk of Pitch U Minion Tina Moss:

Each month we’ll be reading your comments to find the most useful, insightful, heartfelt or inspirational responses to Pitch University articles. The top poster will be featured here along with honorable mentions.

Away we go! The May Best Comment Award goes to...Best Comments Award 

... Lisa Tener for her response to “Your Book Proposal: Give Them What They Want and Make Them Beg For More!” by the Lit Coach, Erin Reel.

This article featured a guide for creating your non-fiction book proposal. It asked writers to answer four distinct questions when creating the proposal.

Lisa added to the discussion by reminding writers to include the market for the book and the platform the writer has already established. Here is her award winning comment:

“A great summary of what makes a proposal pop. I often suggest making clear up front who the market is and the size of the market, if appropriate. And if an author has a big following, it can be a successful strategy to drop the most stunning fact about a writer's platform up front. Lead with the fact you were on Oprah...but tell it as a story, for instance.”

- May 18, 2011

Thanks Lisa for adding your insight into creating a book proposal.

---

Pitch University supporters are an AMAZING community of writers. They’ve offered their feedback on various queries in response to Diane Holmes article “Working on YOUR Book’s Pitch: Genre, Story Hook, and Setting Expectations.” There were too many GREAT comments to choose from, so check them all out HERE.

Additional wonderful comments for the month of May come from our Honorable Mentions:

· From ClaudeNougat in response to Pitching at Midnight: The Layers of Your Pitch.

“Brilliant advice and I just tweeted about it! Indeed, good YA is multilayered, and my favorite YA author, Carlos Ruiz Zafòn, does precisely this sort of thing - like Christie Craig, only the setting is dark, mysterious, Gaudì-crazy Barcelona (he's Spanish).
They have both understood in depth what it is that makes a good story! Zafòn points out that YA novels need to bring up basic existential issues that provoke and stimulate Young Adults...He thinks they are more demanding than adults!

– May 26, 2011

Thank you for introducing us to a YA author and sharing your thoughts on the genre.

· From Ginger Simpson in response to What Is It Like to Consult with a Literary Agent?

“Great article, and I have done and continue to do what you've suggested; I recently signed up for Six Sentence Sunday and if you want to get blog exposure, that's a way to do it. I spent the entire day trying to leave a comment on each of the 114 blogs listed there. If you're looking for a certain type of voice in the reading you prefer, check out the site, join or just follow the links to read the six shared sentences of others.”

– May 15, 2011

I love the idea for Six Sentence Sunday! Thanks for informing our audience about this fun blogging forum.

Saturday
Jun252011

PitchFest Interview & Feedback – Saritza Hernandez with L. Perkins Agency

And Then There Was One (agent, that is!)

From Diane, Founder of Pitch U:

Our very first “massive” PitchFest (a.k.a. The June MG, YA, & Romance PitchFest in partnership with the awesome Romance University) is coming to a close today with the witty & delicious Saritza Hernandez, literary agent with L.Perkins  Agency.

Saritza is a great deal of fun, and she has some insightful feedback for our PitchFest writers. 

Her schedule is really tight right now (hey, RWA Nationals is next week!) so she won't be able to take questions, but show her some love and thanks in the comments, okay?

As a recap, we’ve gotten insights from Literary Agents Jenny Brent, Kate Schafer Testerman, Brianne Mulligan, Lucy Carson, Jessica Alvarez, and Vickie Motter.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting a salute to our Video Pitchers.  These writers have participated in building their careers this week, and that deserves a separate post. :)

Meet The Industry Pro:

SaritzaName: Saritza Hernandez

Company/Title: L. Perkins Agency, ePub Agent

Length of Time In Industry: 10 years, 1 year as agent

Conference Pitch Confessions:

Here’s why I really go to conferences and take pitch appointments:

To meet with other agents and editors as well as new authors.

Here’s how I wish writers would approach their time with me:

Be passionate about your story and make me feel it the minute you sit down with me. Pitching your baby to anyone is nerve-wracking but I don't bite… Not too hard at least. ;)

Of the appointments I take…

  • _85_% know their genre/sub-genre when asked (and their pitch reflects that genre).
  • _15__% know how to pitch and give good pitches that impress me.
  • _60__% seem scared out of their gourd.
  • _10__% of my “Yes, send me something” responses are due to having an good pitch alone.
  • _5__% of my “Yes, send me something” responses are because I worked hard to get information out of the writer.
  • _10__% of writers are comfortable having a conversation with me and answering questions about their books.
  • _10__% of writers come across as being ready for publication.
  • _99_% seem like nice people despite all other issues.

When I get home…

  • _50_% of manuscripts I request are actually sent.
  • _50__% of requests are sent within 30 days.
  • _80__% of the requests sent do, indeed, reflect what I though the story would be about.

Query Religious Argument:

The title, genre, and wordcount belongs…

  • ___ Before the book “pitch” paragraphs
  • ___ After the book “pitch” paragraphs
  • _X_ Makes no difference to me
  • ___ I don’t read the query first, and that information is a minor consideration
  • ___ Other:

Background:

How did you end up where you are now in the publishing industry?

I've always wanted to work in the publishing industry and consider myself the Adam Richman of publishing. While he's held every job in the food industry, I've held almost every job in the publishing industry. Started out in journalism while in college, then desktop publishing (design), then textbook publishing (everything from editorial assistant to tech support) but being an agent is where I've felt most at home.

I love talking about my clients' projects and when a manuscript keeps me up at night, I'm pitching that puppy to everyone and anyone!

Where can we meet you in person (conferences, workshops, conventions, etc.)?

I'll be at the Florida Writers Association in October and RT 2012 in Chicago.

Lighten the Mood and Get to Know You:

If you could name a coffee drink and have it become famous… what would you name it and what would be on it?

The Saritza Mocha Latte would have four shots of Puerto Rican espresso, dark chocolate syrup, steamed milk and whipped cream with ground chocolate-covered coffee beans sprinkled on top. Man, I want one now!

PitchFest Feedback

Autumn Dove - It's difficult to hear you and I had to replay it several times to get the gist of the story. Make me excited about your story and tell me why your vampire romance is different from all of the rest. I'm a bit confused about the horse, for example. Is he more than a horse? If so, how does that tie into the story? Is the cougar attack part of your climax or conflict? I couldn't tell so I was left with more questions than answers. As is, there's not enough in the pitch to make me excited about the story so it would be a pass for me.

Chantee Hale - Great use of visual aid in the background. Just remember to keep more eye contact and make your pitch as intriguing as your story. I don't represent YA so this would be a pass for me.

Elizabeth Michels - What a great voice and open expression! While the pitch is clearly memorized, she brings all of the points across well and it's definitely an intriguing premise. I didn't get a good sense of your hero from your pitch. Why did he flee and does it come back to bite him in Charleston? I'm looking for more erotic romance at the moment however so this would be a pass as well.

Janie Bill - Good job on presenting the story though I recommend making the pitch less wordy. It seemed long and while she kept good eye contact throughout the video, the verbal missteps made it difficult to follow. I don't represent YA so this would be a pass for me.

Jenna Wallace - Great pitch with a clear and distinct story! Were this a romantic suspense, I would definitely be interested in reading a sample of the manuscript.

Jesi Lea Ryan - The bird in the background is distracting from the pitch and I'm a little confused about the story. I think the verbal hiccups in this one also took away from getting the point of the story across. This story feels more like a YA than a romance though it's pitched as such so I would work on pitching the romantic elements of the story and the heroine's love interest. I was a bit taken aback by the fact her twin sister's death is not considered the toughest thing in the heroine's life. Remember to use better lighting when filming. This is another pass for me as I don't represent YA.

Michael J. Lee - I think this pitch would be better if he left the camera on the table and sat in front of it. The title is catchy but the premise, another vampire romance, is what makes it a pass for me. Also, while I make my preferences clear in my submission guidelines, telling the agent this is "everything you want" is off-putting in a pitch so I'd remove that from the pitch in the future. This one is a pass for me.

Misty Dietz - This premise is intriguing but I didn't get a sense of a true suspense or romance from your pitch. Flawed girl meets fallen hero while being chased for answers neither want to give is too twisted a plot to make me want to see more.The flaws in the heroine and clichéd characters make this story a pass for me.

Sonali Mayadev Thatte - This is a good pitch and I have always loved the idea of second chance at romance. What can I say? I'm a sap when it comes to best friends finding each other again and strengthening the bond between them to lead to romance. I would be interested in reading a synopsis and the first five pages of the manuscript.

Taylord Lunsford - This pitch is short, rushed and cut off at the beginning but it packs a punch nonetheless! The premise is interesting but the repetitive "frog" instead of prince doesn't tie in with the Roman gods motif of the story so it kinda threw me for a loop there. Slow down when you pitch and make sure to highlight the major plot point of your story. It's a great concept and I would be interested in reading a synopsis and the first five pages of this one as well. I would also suggest categorizing it as a paranormal romance or contemporary romance with paranormal elements.

Thursday
Jun232011

PitchFest Interview & Feedback – Brianne Mulligan with Movable Type Literary Group

From Diane, Founder of Pitch U:

A warm welcome to Brianne Mulligan and a Happy Friday morning to all!  We have two fabulous agents this Friday morning.

Brianne will be answering questions here (in the comments of this post) between 11:00 a.m. – Noon EDT.

Lucy Carson will be answering questions in the comment of her post between 10:00 a.m. – Noon EDT.

I recommend you open two windows and experience these super agents in stereo. :)

Meet The Industry Pro:

brianne Name: Brianne Mulligan

Company/Title: Agent, Movable Type Literary Group

Length of Time In Industry: 6 years

Clients/Titles/Claims to Fame: I’m relatively new to agenting, but I worked as an editor within Penguin and Random House. I have a handful of great clients, but I’m still building my list.

When Pitching to Me:

What should Pitch U writers include in their pitch to you? Their query letter?

Well, pitch and query letter are usually the same. It should include the standard info: title, genre, word count, one to two lines that express the concept, and a short plot description—plus the first ten pages of your manuscript.

Conference Pitch Confessions:

Here’s why I really go to conferences and take pitch appointments:

For the opportunity to discuss the industry and the market with other people as passionate about it as I am.

Here’s how I wish writers would approach their time with me:

It’s not the end of the world if you don’t pitch your project perfectly, or if I don’t respond to it in the way you’d hoped. Consider the feedback, ask questions about pitching and the publishing process in general, and hone your pitch when you get home. Don’t approach a conference as a chance to land an agent—it’s really more of a learning experience, and an opportunity to arm yourself with skills and knowledge that will increase your chances of finding representation through querying after the conference.

Query Religious Argument:

The title, genre, and wordcount belongs…

  • ___ Before the book “pitch” paragraphs
  • ___ After the book “pitch” paragraphs
  • __x_ Makes no difference to me
  • ___ I don’t read the query first, and that information is a minor consideration
  • ___ Other:

Industry Pro Scenario:

You’ve found a book you love, and now you represent the author and must sell it to a publisher.  Take us through your process:

First, I worked editorially with my client to make sure the manuscript is the best it can be before we submit to editors. If revisions are necessary, I’ll use that time to talk the novel up to editors when I have the opportunity (over lunch, drinks, etc.) as something exciting that’s on the horizon. Those who ask to see it when it’s ready will be on my submission list, as well as others who might be a good fit because of the kinds of books they acquire.

Once the manuscript is ready to go, I’ll pitch by either phone or email depending on my relationship with the editor, but usually email (I always preferred email as an editor). Even when I connect first by phone, I always follow up with the written pitch.

There are three main things I try to convey in a pitch: 1) As concisely as possible, what is the concept of the novel? 2) Where does it fit into the current market and to what successful books could it reasonably be compared? And 3) How is different and special? Then I’ll include a short description that will probably sound like flap copy. (I got a lot of practice writing that as an editor!) Sometimes it will include lines from the author’s original pitch.

A lot of my pitching experience comes from presenting books internally during my time as an editor. If I pitch it right as an agent, I could be making it easier for an editor to envision presenting the book to their sales forces, as they’ll eventually have to do.

Background:

How did you end up where you are now in the publishing industry?

I started on the editorial side, first working on adult non-fiction, and later on fiction for teen and middle grader readers. The two areas are very different, and I was lucky to be able to make the jump. (I thank my old boss at Razorbill for giving me the chance.)

At a certain point, though, I started to crave a little more freedom—freedom to work on any book that I loved, regardless of whether it matched our imprint’s sensibility or there was room for it on our small, very selective list. After some great conversations with Jason Ashlock, founder of MTLG, I decided to make another jump—and I haven’t regretted it.

Where can we meet you in person (conferences, workshops, conventions, etc.)?

I’ll be at the Rutgers One-on-One Children’s Conference on October 15. I may still commit to other, local conferences this year, but I can’t travel far because I have a newborn.

Pitching Insights:

What’s the difference between a book that should sell but doesn’t and a book that actually sells?

That’s THE question, isn’t it? I’d say in most cases it has to do with timing and what’s working in the market. Maybe the market is saturated with a certain kind of novel (not an ideal time to be pitching the great American vampire novel, for example…), or perhaps the opposite: there’s not enough of a demonstrated audience for a particular kind of book.

But sometimes there’s no easy answer. We call those our “heartbreak” books. Happily, I think this is going to be a lot less common now that publishing has entered the digital age. Some agencies, like ours, are finding ways for these books to see publication—without becoming publishers ourselves, but also while helping authors avoid the stigma of self-publishing. Stay tuned…

Lighten the Mood and Get to Know You:

If you could name a sandwich and have it become famous… what would you name it and what would be on it?

I didn’t invent this, but I love baked Brie cheese and green apple slices on a French baguette. Delicious combo. Let’s call it…the Big Advance-wich.

If you could command any writer (living or dead) to write a book of your design, who would you choose and what would she/he write?

Can I pick Oprah?

Who do you admire most in the publishing industry?

Aw, that’s tough. I rarely meet a person in this industry that I’m NOT impressed with. Lots of smart and creative people—happy, too, because most of them love their jobs!

PitchFest Feedback

Query Letters

Carolyn Chambers Clark, author of FOGGED MIRROR, a 59,000 word young adult mystery.

Thanks for your query, Carolyn! Now let’s dissect it…

I’m always looking for a high-concept novel with a fresh hook. “High-concept” can be a confusing phrase because it SOUNDS like the opposite of what it is. A high-concept novel is actually a pretty commercial novel. As a general rule, if you can express the premise of your novel in one sentence, then it qualifies as high-concept (e.g., “THE NANNY DIARIES is humorous look at Manhattan society from a nanny’s perspective”). And often what makes a pitch successful is that very thing: being able to convey the concept of your novel in as few words as possible.

That said, two sentences is okay! In this pitch letter, it sounds like you’re trying so hard to summarize your book in one sentence that you’ve ended up with a bit of a run-on. It’s also reading as more of a concise plot synopsis than a pitch. You’ve told me what’s going to happen in the novel, but not what the book is. It’s a middle-grade thriller, right? Go ahead and call it that.

You’re giving us a lot of details that are not vital to your pitch (we don’t need to know that it’s “summer vacation,” that the protagonist is on a trip with “his little sister and parents,” that a “cool tour guide” will be involved, et cetera). I’m paraphrasing here, but you could say something like: “In this middle-grade thriller, fourteen-year-old Dave McClain gets caught up in an assassination attempt while vacationing with is family in Paris; now it’s up to him to untangle a murder plot and keep an international crisis from erupting.” You should make it prettier, but that’s the general idea.

Once you’ve pitched the concept in your opening paragraph, then you should describe the plot a little more fully in the next paragraph or two. In this letter, we’re actually not getting enough information. By the end of the query, I should have some idea as to why the book is called THE MYSTERY OF THE FOGGED MIRROR. Currently I have no idea what the mirror has to do with anything.

Include only the most impressive aspects of your writing experience, and no need to mention parenting or volunteer experience with the age group. Finally, you make reference to two other books—have you written these already, or are they just ideas on how you might continue the series? It’s not clear to me, and when I don’t feel like an author is able to express his or herself clearly in a query letter, I worry that the novel will need a lot of work.

Carrie Spencer, author of CAPTAIN FANNY PACK, a 30,000 WORD MIDDLE GRADE*

Hi, Carrie. Terrifically pitched! A few notes:

I love a good X meets Y pitch. It’s a great way to highlight how your novel fits into the market, but also how it offers something unique. I’m always looking for a novel that puts a new spin on something familiar. One note: don’t be afraid to put that part of the pitch in a full sentence. My only other note is that the two things you’re comparing (Inspector Gadget and Jimmy Neutron) actually seem pretty similar to me. Think about comparing one of those two things to something else--something distinctly different--that highlights another aspect of the story.

Otherwise, it’s a successful pitch. You’ve expressed the concept, given us just the right amount of plot info, and captured a nice, playful tone. Would I ask to take a look? Well, I’m on the fence. But that’s not the fault of your pitch. Even the most perfect pitch isn’t going to speak to every agent, and this concept didn’t immediately grab me. That’s why I ask authors to include the first 10 pages of their manuscript with their query email—the quality of the writing can tip the scales.

Dee R., author of LOCKER 43, a 25,000 word middle grade novel.*

Hi, Dee! It’s always nice to hear that a writer is querying me because they’ve done their homework, and they’re not just papering the town. First tip, though: if you’re going to go to the trouble of researching an agent (which you should) then really make it count. Why not mention where you read about the agent, or perhaps something specific that made you think he or she might be a good fit for your work.

As for you pitch: I’d have to say your one-liner is a little too vague. You’ve given us the category and the setting, but we still don’t know the concept. Your two-paragraph description is better, but still a tad vague. I’d like concrete examples (beyond just the watermelon) of the kind of items that are showing up her locker, and an example or two of the tasks she has to perform. It sounds like it has potential to be a humorous story with heart, but I’m not quite sold by this pitch. I do like the title.

p.s. Cute website!

DEE WHITE, author of SAVING SARAH DAVIS, a 60,000 WORD Contemporary YA.

Another Dee! Hello. Really well done pitch. The only thing missing is that one-liner that encapsulates the novel—but your two-paragraph description of the story is very nice, and you’ve got me intrigued now about this dark family secret. I also appreciate the line about how it will appeal to readers of books like SPEAK—it shows me that you read within the category and that you’ve thought about your audience.

This is another one that’s going to come down to the writing. The pitch sounds a little dark for my taste, but I would definitely dip into the 10 pages I request with every query.

HALEY WHITEHALL, author of ISABELLE'S BARGAIN, a 40,000 word HISTORICAL FICTION/MIDDLE GRADE*

Hi, Haley. As the say in the journalism industry, I think you’re burying the lead. The three paragraphs you use to describe the plot contain a lot of unnecessary noise. Here’s what I think is important: 1) Lindy is an 11-year old slave in 1857 Virginia who sees a ghost named Isabelle. 2) When Lindy learns that she is to be sold, she must turn to the ghost she has always tried to ignore for help. 3) Isabelle knows the route on the Underground Railroad and agrees to lead Lindy safely north—but she wants something in return, and Lindy may not like what that is. All of which could be put into one solid paragraph. I’d hone this pitch before you send it out widely.

Lori Ehrman Tinkey, author of TWIN GHOSTS, a 65,000 word YA

 

Hi, Lori. I’m afraid I found this pitch to be a bit of a head-scratcher. That’s partly because I don’t know what a “New Age teen devotee” is, and partly because there’s a lot going on in the novel and the different elements aren’t really jelling. The protagonists are time twins who are also haunted by ghosts—it sort of sounds like two story ideas combined into one. If you have a complex premise like this, you have to take extra care to explain it clearly.

Nicole Zoltack, author of RIONA'S PEN, a 80,000 Fantasy YA

Hi, Nicole. I recognize that pitching fantasy is tough. To capture the whole new world you’ve created in a concise pitch is a tall order. You’ve done a nice job here, although it could use some comparison titles. I’m not terribly well-read in the category, but INKHEART comes to mind? I think the right agent is out there, but it sounds a little outside my area of interest.

O'Dell Hutchison, author of THE WEEPING, a 61,000-word YA Thriller*

Hi, O’Dell. Overall, good pitch! You’ve done a nice job conveying the premise, and you’ve got me wondering what this disturbing family secret might be. I also appreciate that you included your reason for querying me in particular.

I’m always looking for a solid YA thriller. This sounds like it might have a slight paranormal/ghost angle, though? There’s something that feels a little familiar about it to me, but I would certainly dip into the first 10 pages. THE WEEPING is an appealing title, too.

Video Feedback

Brianne Mulligan: Video Pitch Feedback

Autumn Dove , author of Shadow Guardian, a 100k word, paranormal romance

Hi, Autumn. The audio was a little wonky, so I didn’t catch every word of your pitch—but I think I got the gist. First of all, I assume most face-to-face pitch opportunities are going to happen at a conference, rather than through a prepared video (although this is a great way to practice). With that in mind—and this is a tip for everyone who participated—try to get comfortable enough talking about your novel without consulting a piece of paper or having to stick exactly to a prepared script. Your pitch sounded like it would make a solid query letter, but in this case, I’d like to hear you speak about your story in a more natural way. You have a very relaxed manner, and there was a part of your pitch around :30 of the video where I could really tell that you love your story and your characters—try to let that shine throughout.

Unfortunately the concept doesn’t strike me as fresh enough to consider. The industry is pretty fatigued when it comes to vampire novels, so you’d really need a new take on the familiar in order to get me excited. There was a hint of there being something special about her stallion in the pitch—I might make that a little clearer since it sounds like the most unique aspect.

Chanteé Hale, author of HEAT, a 68,000 rounded word, dystopian young adult novel

Hi, Chantee. That’s some fancy green screen work!

I found the opening line of this pitch to be strong: you start by making a universal statement (the words “I’m pregnant,” can change anyone’s life), and then you bring it down to the level of your story (but for this character, they mark the beginning of the end). It’s an effective technique. However, then I think you go on to spend a little too much time on the pregnancy/betrayal/ex part of the story. Since you’re pitching this as dystopian, I was expecting to hear more about the world of the novel. I’d cut some of the initial details (the bit about not being able to afford an abortion, for example, is not vital to the pitch), and instead explain what threatens their survival.

Elizabeth Michels, author of Abigail’s Secret, a 90,000 word Time Travel Romance

Hi, Elizabeth. You have a really charming pitching style: you’re speaking slowly and smiling. And furthermore, you kept it nice and concise! Well done. I’m focusing almost solely on YA and MG at the moment so it’s not for me, but I got a kick out of the premise. One tip: I have no problem with X-book meets Y-movie pitches, but agents within my own agency disagree. I think it’s generally more accepted in the YA/MG world (I mean, these days every teen novel looks like it could be a movie poster, right?), but less so on the adult side. Just something to be aware of.

Janie Bill, author of HALO LIGHT, a 94,000 words YA fantasy

Hi, Janine. I was intrigued by the setting of this novel and it sounds like it could potentially be something unique, but I couldn’t get a solid handle on the concept because the pitch was too long and included too many unnecessary plot points. Try not to fall into the “and then this happened…and then this happened” trap. The strongest part of this pitch started at around 1:30 of the video. Everything in the minute and a half before that should really be boiled down to less than 30 seconds.

Jenna Wallace, author of SOMNILOQUY, a 78,000 word Young Adult suspense novel with a ghostly twist.

Hi, Jenna. This is a terrific pitch. You come across as confident and professional. You had me at 0:43 of the video, and yet the additional plot description did not strike me as excessive. Your A-story is Abby’s somniloquy, and you rightly give that the most attention in your pitch; then you touch upon the B- and C-stories (Abby’s relationship with her father, and her love interest). Each plotline is given the right amount of weight in your pitch. As for the concept: it feels fresh. I’d love to take a look at the first 50 pages (and please include your written pitch, as well).

Jesi Lea Ryan, author of EMO GIRL, 56,000 word, young adult paranormal romance

Hi, Jesi. First of all, I commend you for not reading your pitch, even though there were a few stumbles. In order to overcome those hiccups, I would practice pitching the book to friends, and not necessarily always following the same script.

I would also cut out the middle of your pitch. The interesting part is that when her sister died, she saw the accident from her perspective, and now she’s an empath. We don’t need to know that it was her neighbor who recognized her ability and explained it to her.

As far as the concept goes, I’m afraid it just didn’t fresh enough to pique my interest. I’ve seen too many girl-with-special-powers novels lately. You might also consider tweaking the title. The current title doesn’t say paranormal novel to me.

Michael J Lee, author of FROM RUSSIA WITH BLOOD, a 76,000 word Paranormal Romance/Adventure

I guess I’m a sucker for a pun (oh, no, there’s another one! Sucker…vampire novel…uh, never mind), because I got a kick out of this title. And the opening of your pitch works for me--“James Bond” meets “Twilight” tells me exactly what to expect from the novel. You have a nice, natural way of talking about your book, although I would have ended at 1:10 of the video. Saying that the novel has “everything we’d want” is sort of like telling us that the writing is great—it may be true, but we have to find out for ourselves! Unfortunately this one’s not for me because it’s not YA, and I’m vampired-out. Good luck with it, though; it does sound different than your typical vampire fare.

MISTY DIETZ, author of WEB OF DECEIT, a 89K romantic suspense with paranormal elements

Hi, Misty. You have a nice presentation manner, but this is another one that sounds rehearsed, and strikes me as a better query letter than an in-person pitch. I’d try to speak the way you naturally speak rather than the way you write.

You start to lose me around :35 of the video. First you mention a “provocative boutique owner,” then you introduce Sloane the psychic—they’re the same person, right? I found myself wondering why you first called her a boutique owner—that doesn’t seem like the most important aspect of her character. You started to lose me when you launched into what’s really behind this character’s façade. I think that’s a little detailed for a pitch, and makes it hard to follow when you jump back to talking about the murders and suddenly you refer to the killer as the protagonist’s “nemesis” with a “20 year vendetta.” This sounds important to the story, but up until this point we haven’t heard anything about the killer, so it’s tad confusing.

Sonali Mayadev Thatte, author of The Bollywood Bride, a 95,000 word Multicultural Single Title Romance.

Hi, Sonali. Very nice pitch. I think you could trim a few sentences and it would be even sharper, but overall you have a good one-liner and then a fairly concise plot description. I would cut 1:04 to 1:20 of the video. It’s not the kind of novel I represent, but I think another agent will appreciate your pitch.

Taylor Lunsford, author of CUPID MEETS HIS MATCH, a 90,000 word contemporary Romance novel*

Hi, Taylor. When you pitch a novel, it’s so easy to lose an editor’s or an agent’s attention by going on just a little too long, so kudos for keeping your pitch short and really boiling the story down to what’s important. Since it’s such a tight pitch, there would be no harm in slowing down a bit—it sounded like you were in a bit of a rush to get the pitch out, but it’s only three sentences, so take your time! Otherwise, really well done. Modern retellings of classic stories and myths are popular right now—I’m not really focusing on contemporary romance at the moment, unless it’s YA, but I think your novel has promise and the right agent will be interested.

Thursday
Jun232011

PitchFest Interview & Feedback – Lucy Carson with The Friedrich Agency

From Diane, Founder of Pitch U:

Hello to Lucy Carson, agent extraordinaire, and a fully-caffeinated Friday morning to all!  We have two go-to agents this Friday morning.

Lucy Carson  will be answering questions here (in the comments of this post) between10:00 a.m. – Noon EDT

Brianne will be answering questions in the comment of her post between  11:00 a.m. – Noon EDT.

It's true.  Life is good to us here at Pitch U.  

Meet The Industry Pro:

Lucy Carson Name: Lucy Carson

Company/Title: The Friedrich Agency

Length of Time In Industry: 3 years

 

When Pitching to Me:

What should Pitch U writers include in their pitch to you? Their query letter?

I appreciate a query letter that is about a page, single-spaced, but no more than that. It’s important to me that a writer be able to talk about their project with enough detail to entice a reader like myself without over-sharing or exhausting the opportunity. If there’s some part of your personal life or experience that has informed your writing, please include that—I’d consider it relevant if it does indeed relate.

The description of your offered manuscript should be a hearty paragraph, and hopefully not longer than that. Be professional but don’t ever hesitate to drop me a generous pinch of your personality in the process.

Conference Pitch Confessions:

Here’s how I wish writers would approach their time with me:

I wish writers would prioritize the time limits over their nerves. There just isn’t time to be worried or paranoid—most pitches have a tight clock on them, and I always feel so regretful when that time flies by because a writer hasn’t prepared properly, or was too focused on the stress of the situation to actually “get it out” for my consideration.

Of the appointments I take…

  • 75% know their genre/sub-genre when asked (and their pitch reflects that genre).
  • 80% know how to pitch and give good pitches that impress me.
  • 50% seem scared out of their gourd.
  • 100% of my “Yes, send me something” responses are due to having an good pitch alone.
  • 0% of my “Yes, send me something” responses are because I worked hard to get information out of the writer.
  • 50% of writers are comfortable having a conversation with me and answering questions about their books.
  • 15% of writers come across as being ready for publication.
  • 100% seem like nice people despite all other issues.
  • When I get home…
  • 100% of manuscripts I request are actually sent.
  • 80% of requests are sent within 30 days.
  • 75% of the requests sent do, indeed, reflect what I though the story would be about.

Query Religious Argument:

The title, genre, and wordcount belongs…

  • _X_ Before the book “pitch” paragraphs
  • ___ After the book “pitch” paragraphs
  • ___ Makes no difference to me
  • ___ I don’t read the query first, and that information is a minor consideration
  • ___ Other:

Industry Pro Scenario:

You’ve found a book you love, and now you represent the author and must sell it to a publisher.  Take us through your process:

I always connect with an editor first when I’m feeling out their interest. I also stress that if an editor isn’t 100% enthusiastic after hearing my pitch, they should be honest with me about that so that neither of us wastes our time, and I can send my actual submitted manuscript elsewhere in the imprint.

I have a phone pitch for these conversations, and then a separate pitch letter to accompany the manuscript when I send it, and usually the written version emphasizes biographical information, since the editor will have to craft their own plot/character/voice pitch for the manuscript when they’re trying to get support in-house—so what they really need is everything relevant that *isn’t* in the manuscript.

I do make a point of highlighting the strength of an author regarding publicity and marketing and editorial when I am pitching the manuscript itself—every little bit helps, and these days it’s much more about the Big Picture than simply the writing.

Background:

How did you end up where you are now in the publishing industry?

Some may know this already, some may not. I’m actually Molly Friedrich’s second eldest daughter, and I became her assistant as a way of bailing her out when her former assistant became pregnant and was entitled to a proper maternity leave.

At the time, 3 years ago, my presence at the agency was supposed to be temporary, keeping in line with my eventual plans to move to L.A. and focus on the film world. But I took to the job so naturally and was such an obvious fit, that when the old assistant announced her plans to become a book scout, I decided to stay on and begin building my own stable of writers.

Where can we meet you in person (conferences, workshops, conventions, etc.)?

I don’t currently have any conferences scheduled for the Fall, but I’ll be at AgentFest, which is a part of ThrillerFest here in New York City this summer.

Pitching Insights:

What’s the difference between a book that should sell but doesn’t and a book that actually sells?

The only time that I’ve ever run into a situation where I was actually shocked by a book not selling was when a client of mine deliberately challenged her genre. I found it fresh, but the romance editors who have worked within a certain formula for so many years successfully, weren’t willing to see the freshness without also seeing a huge risk. But beyond that, I don’t take on books that I can’t sell—I’m not in the business of valuing volume over true quality, and I’ve made it a big part of my job to understand the way that editors weigh their acquistional decisions.

Can you give us a pitch for a current project?

Nope, sorry! There’s a certain kind of strength that lies in keeping a few things private. I’m sure it would help you all, but it would compromise my project in the process.

Lighten the Mood and Get to Know You:

Who do you admire most in the publishing industry?

Nancy Pearl. She’s a true champion of great writing, and has read everything under the sun (that’s worth reading).

Lucy’s PitchFest Feedback

Query Letters

AE Martin—RAVENOUS DUSK

Make sure we know sooner that Blake is female, I was initially confused. “He is Reaper” actually doesn’t tell me much since I’m not yet situated in this fantastical universe, need some context before you throw terms at us, I think. Is the murder investigation happening this late in the story? If not, then move it up in your pitch, it feels like an after-thought and I’m not sure that reflects your narrative. Also, need to know NYC setting sooner! That’s a selling point, and again, it situates us.

Angelica R. Jackson—SPIRITS FROM THE VASTY DEEP

Thank you for thanking me, always a lovely first step. Olivia is en route from Spain—to where? How does one escape a ship…into the ocean? This is an intriguing synopsis, I’d love to take a look, even though 95k is long for YA, which you may want to acknowledge.

Candi Wall—CERES WRATH

Regarding the potential for series, have you provided for both scenarios (standalone and series) in the narrative? We need enough resolution to walk away and enough of a question mark to entice us further. Since this is YA and parents are out of the picture, knowing more about that even in the synopsis might provide an immediate emotional connection for an agent to latch onto. I’d love to read further though, it sounds fresh.

Carlene Love Flores—SIDEWALK FLOWER

What do you mean by “both the bad and good people”? This is a bit of an oversimplification, and a bit of a cliché, I think it bears revisiting since it’s your opener. Your synopsis has some interesting phrases in it, but it also sounds very much like a story about a woman pulled in two directions by outside forces. I don’t get a sense of her character or her agency in her own life. I’m sure she is a stronger character than this suggests, so you may want to take another stab at that description. Good luck!

Carolyn Chambers Clark—THE KROY WEN CHRONICLES

We’re moving a bit too fast here for an introduction. Remember, the agent doesn’t know what Kroy Wen is, or what a Seducca is, or what “shadow corporation” entails. When I see terms that I don’t know, which aren’t defined for me, my reaction is, “this is too much detective work for me” and I move on. Try to ease us in, so that we want to follow you into the manuscript itself.

Haley Whitehall—SHADES OF WHITE

Hi Haley, since we’re historical, please give us the year in which we are set. I’m very confused about races and ethnicities here. Am I to assume that Zacharia is black, or white, or Native American? Under what circumstances would a Cherokee woman be upper class, this is why setting and other historical details are relevant. The more we know, the more we can buy into your fiction. If the details don’t fit, or there isn’t enough information, then a seed of doubt takes over. I think it would help a lot for you to go back in here and fill in the necessary details.

Jen Chatfield—LIFE WITH A SIDE OF WHISKEY

I was surprised to see, at the end of the letter, that this story is told from two different perspectives on the relationship. You focus pretty heavily on Lucy for the emotional journey of this description, so I’d suggest that if the book gives each of them a voice, then so should your query.

Jennifer Truxillo—MORTAL KISMET

98K words is quite a hunk of literature for the YA market, but alright. What do you mean by “secret element”? That word brings me back to middle school science class, but surely you meant something more akin to “creature” or “life form” right? There’s a LOT going on here—zombies, a familiar trope, then humanoid aliens of your own creation, AND reincarnation? At the outset, I feel a bit overwhelmed. It might be best to focus on one or two of these fixtures for the sake of the query, so that agents don’t get a haphazard impression from your description.

Lori Ehrman Tinkey—BREATHING UNDERWATER

I caution against putting the climactic reveal in your first line of the pitch. That’s definitely something to save for the end of the description, if you feel the need to include it at all (I wouldn’t, because it can often help to leave a bit of the mystery for the manuscript itself). Also, the media involvement makes me wonder whether this is a world in which we KNOW there are mermaids. Since that’s not the case in reality, you should note that somewhere earlier. I’m a bit worried about the pregnancy aspect…you will certainly get push-back from a lot of YA editors.

Martha Ramirez—FORBIDDEN BLOOD

I would suggest you delete paragraph two. I wouldn’t have made it to paragraph three if this were submitted to me over email, but because I was determined to give you feedback, I did, and it was the “selling” moment for your synopsis. However, your last sentence in parentheses there is confusing. It’s great to throw in a hint of your voice, but it’s better to have strong sentences, and if you have to choose one, choose the latter. I do like your “professional chaser of a four-year old” mention!

Melodie Wright—SAVING ANDROMEDA

Other agents may disagree here so do check submission guidelines, but for myself, I strongly prefer finished manuscripts to works in progress. What if I love it, and want to keep going? I don’t offer to rep anyone without seeing their story in complete form, so that would be a wasted effort, to read just the partial. But back to the query. Killer good synopsis, I’d love to take a look WHEN it’s done! If you don’t find an agent before that.

Nikki Stuckwisch—CODE

The only thing missing here is a sense of who Brett is as a woman, as a doctor, as a character in general. Terrific sense of suspense, very hard to pull that off in only a few sentences. It does sound a bit gruesome at the outset, but I’d love to read more here.

Norma Johnson—VEX

Very solid first two paragraphs, at the outset, I’m quite taken with this concept. When you later say, “they meet Justice”, are we to assume that Tana and Shane can go into VEX together? If so, that definitely bears influence on their changing relationship, so I would clarify that this is something they do as a pair. I’m also missing a sense of how this book compares to and builds on, or departs from, the others in this genre. Virtual lives have been a big focus as of late in fiction for teens, and I’d like to be reassured by you that this is different from the competition, but also a product of a growing audience which you’re fully aware of.

Anon —Book

Hi xxx, you need some paragraphs! There’s a visual component to query letters that believe it or not, really does make a difference to those of us who read 300 per day. There is an awful lot of plot here before we ever once realize that this woman was <hidden detail>. Do say that much, much sooner, as literary retellings and adaptations and historical imaginings are very marketable once they’re identified as such. No reason to wait, bring that right to the front!

Robin Bielman—LEGACY

This is an interesting concept, but it’s not clear to me whether Emery and Baze were two normal teens one day, and the next—ushered into this alternate understanding of the world? Is all of this being dealt with in addition to the issues and pressures of a normal high school life, continuing all the while? I’d like a better sense of how Emery’s past and present intersect, especially since it will affect how marketable and relatable this story is for its target audience.

Sylvia McDaniel—LIFE: TAKE TWO

When you say “embarks on a new adventure returning to college” do you mean that Marianne re-enrolls as an adult student, to finish her degree? That’s definitely the most interesting, stand-out part of this description, so if I were you, I’d spend a little more time developing that for the synopsis. Also, when you mention having been published 9 times with Kensington, be sure to clarify whether you were previously working with an agent who is no longer on board (and if there is a diplomatic reason, state that) or whether you’ve never used an agent, but are now trying to, and why? That’s an important part of your history as a writer, and any interested agent would be asking you these questions as a follow-up, so you might save the time by addressing them at the outset.

Video Pitches

Autumn Dove

Hi Autumn, cool horse throw in the background there! I think SHADOW GUARDIAN was well-pitched and well-described, but for me, personally, when I’m being pitched in person at writer’s conferences, I’m much more at easy with a pitch when it isn’t being read or recited. I know it’s hard to “prepare” without overpreparing, but I felt that your pitch would have been strengthened by a little bit of “on the fly” enthusiasm. You’re surely excited about your novel, and that can be contagious in the best way, if you let it creep into the pitch itself.

Chantee Hale

You’ve clearly pulled out all the technological stops for this video, looks great! I thought your pitch was well-delivered and your pacing was just right, but my issue was that—having defined your novel as “dystopian” I didn’t get any sense of that from your description. I know this character and her dilemma, that’s all very well handled, but if the setting is important (and why write dystopian if it looks just like our own world?) then it should take the lead, or at least be explored for the purposes of a first impression with an agent.

Elizabeth Michels

First of all, thank you for making the time to include pleasantries, gratitude, and a proper introduction. I know the timeframe here is pretty limited, but a little howdy-do goes a long way, with me or any other agent. I thought your description was brief but gave me enough to sense the romance and feel the atmosphere. I’d suggest revisiting the two comp titles you used. I don’t much care for using movies to give readers a sense of literary projects. JANE EYRE was a much more obvious one that came to mind, and if you mixed that with something more fun or more genre-based, I think you’d get people’s attention in a serious way.

Janie Bill

There’s clearly a rich imagination behind the plot and characters of this story, and I love your energy and rhythm in this delivery of what is, let’s face, a pretty complicated synopsis! But I had to watch the video three times to figure out what the arc of the story was, because there were a handful of unclear details that began distracting me, and caused me to lose track of the story even as you were still pitching. Starting with the snowflakes casting images on her skin, and then the casual reference to “sends her mother to death’s door”, it felt like you were trying to pack in too much to one pitch, and you may have to save a few of these events for the manuscript itself, in order to avoid overwhelming the person you’ve submitted to.

Jenna Wallace

Oh dear, I’m going to be massive unhelpful with this one, I’m afraid. I really wouldn’t change a thing. This pitch was airtight, I’d love to read further, the story sounds completely fresh, and as icing on the cake, I am totally weak in the knees for anything involving Scotland. Please send me the manuscript, I’d love to take a look. And you were smart to include the writing experience you’ve had thusfar, especially insofar as it relates to your ability to communicate with a younger audience. Well done!

Jesi Lea Ryan

Brief question: is it Arcadia or Emo girl? Titles didn’t match, but maybe that’s a glitch in the website itself. I thought you were smart to include, albeit towards the end, that Cady (sp?) is dealing simultaneously with all of the normal teen issues in addition to her discovery of these abilities. It becomes more of a coming-of-age-with-twist than just another paranormal, and I like that it stands out in that way. I do think you would have pitched a bit more smoothly if you had allowed yourself to depart from the rehearsed version that you were trying to stick to. You have a great handle on your story and your characters and why they are worth an agents’ time, so maybe do away with those notes…you don’t need them!

Michael J. Lee

What an interesting hybrid—James Bond crossed with Twilight! The first thing I want to say there is that every writer and all of their friends have been using Twilight as a comp title for the past 5 years now, so the publishing community is really weary of that comparison. It’s not going to work against you, but it’s a missed opportunity because people’s eyes simply glaze over and they wait for your next sentence so that they can get a real sense of what you’re trying to do here. I thought the pitch itself was well delivered, you did a great job of organizing your thoughts without sounding formulaic or stiff. I’m a bit worried that your title rubs up against the line between fun and caper. You want fun, you don’t want caper. This might be a tricky one to pin down in terms of audience, but I think the actual pitch was quite polished.

Misty Dietz

You did a wonderful job here of giving both protagonist their fair shake in the synopsis, so that two characters, and therefore their chemistry, have distinctly emerged. The only thing I’m really missing is a sense of you as a writer and as a person. A carefully crafted pitch is great, but have you been writing in any other capacity, are you affiliated with any groups or organizations for writers? I always like at least a pinch of the personal, because it makes a good pitch into a great pitch, and helps me remember not just a plot but the writer behind it.

Sonali Mayadev Thatte

Wow, this pitch really hit all the right ROMANCE notes! I especially loved your line about him unwrapping her from the silken folds of her sari—very steamy. You did a great job on the synopsis here, just long enough to give me a firm sense of the conflict and characters, without overwhelming me with events. My one reservation is that the reason for their separation feels very thinly constructed—her being convinced that she “will” inherit this mental illness. Perhaps if you highlighted the severity of the mental illness and the certainty that this fate is meant to befall her, I’d buy into the doomed aspect here, and it would anchor me in the plausibility of their conflict.

Taylor Lunsford

This sounds like such a fun concept—a little wedding planner stuff, a little online dating stuff, a pinch of paranormal…don’t forget that pinch though! This isn’t just a contemporary romance if your main man is Cupid, posing as a mortal. You don’t want to throw anyone off by categorizing inaccurately. That said, I actually wanted a bit more of the story, and though a short pitch is always appreciated by busy folks, you have solid ideas and it’s ok to go a bit further!

Thursday
Jun232011

PitchFest Interview & Feedback – Jenny Bent of the Bent Agency

From Diane, Pitch U Founder:

We’re pretty darn excited to bring you The Jenny Bent.  Yes, there is a bright light surrounding her.  At least… according to her clients. 

(When Tera Lynn Childs’ first YA came out, she still lived in Houston.  Jenny’s light rubbed off on Tera, and you had to use special glasses just to get your book signed at her chapter author signing.  Yes, it’s true.)

Enjoy Jenny’s interview (and below that are her critiques).  She’ll be joining us tonight between 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. EDT.  That’s 7:00 – 8:00 CDT, where I am.

See you there!

Meet The Industry Pro:

Jenny Name: Jenny Bent

Company/Title: Owner, the Bent Agency

Length of Time In Industry: 20 years (ack!)

Professional Affiliations: AAR

Clients/Titles/Claims to Fame: NYT bestselling authors Lynsay Sands, Laurie Notaro, John Kasich, Julia London, Laurie Wilde, Sandra Hill, USA Today bestselling authors Janelle Denison, Kathryn Caskie, Kieran Kramer, Young Adult authors Tera Lynn Childs, Brent Crawford, Amanda Ashby, to name just a few!

When Pitching to Me:

What should Pitch U writers include in their pitch to you? Their query letter?

Their query letter should include a short bio (even if you don’t have writing credits).

Conference Pitch Confessions:

Here’s why I really go to conferences and take pitch appointments: I’m always looking for great clients—either already established or brand spankin’ new.

Here’s how I wish writers would approach their time with me: In a relaxed way—I don’t bite! I often direct the conversation so I can best learn about your project and also you. My pet peeve is an author who wants to read for five minutes from an index card, or spends five minutes telling me everything that happens in the novel, blow by blow. I’m looking for a great few-sentence pitch that summarizes the plot, a great title, and for you to be able to tell me some already published books that are similar.

Of the appointments I take…

_85_% know their genre/sub-genre when asked (and their pitch reflects that genre).

_25__% know how to pitch and give good pitches that impress me.

_90__% seem scared out of their gourd. [But that’s okay—I understand!]

_25__% of my “Yes, send me something” responses are due to having a good pitch alone.

_25__% of my “Yes, send me something” responses are because I worked hard to get information out of the writer.

_70__% of writers are comfortable having a conversation with me and answering questions about their books. Because I work hard to make them feel comfortable!

_10__% of writers come across as being ready for publication.

_99.9_% seem like nice people despite all other issues.

Background:

How did you end up where you are now in the publishing industry?

I graduated from college knowing I wanted to be an agent. I started as an agent’s assistant when I was 22, and never looked back!

June PitchFest Feedback

Query Letters

#1.  Becke Martin. I think the author is putting too much information into each sentence, with the result that this query is difficult to understand.  I had to read this several times.  Also, editors/agents tend not to like protagonists who are writers—it feels too inside baseball for us.  Add to the fact that she's a wolf shape-shifter which doesn't seem that fresh a concept these days, and unfortunately this is a pass for me.

#2. Lauren Fraser. Because of word count, this might be a category romance and the plot does seem like a category plot.  As a single-title plot, I don't think this would be an easy sell to publishers; they are looking for more high-concept, original plots than this one.  Authors credentials are strong, however.

#3  Nicole Helm. With this word count, this would be a category romance and again, this plot does seem like a category plot.  It's not high-concept enough to attract an editor who is publishing single-title.

#4. Roberta Lynn. This one I would take a look at.  I like the international setting and the fact that the heroine is searching to find out about her heritage.   There are some elements that don't feel completely original but I like the other elements enough to take a look.

#5  Tina Moss & Yelena Casale. I think this query letter is very well done.  Well written, concise, easy to understand, focuses on the right elements.  The problem is that I've seen too many angel/demon plots and so ultimately I wouldn't want to see.

Video Pitch

Jenny told us in advance that her schedule was so tight she could only review 5 video pitches.  (At Pitch U, we understand long hours!)  We asked her to review her choice of the five, and she decided to critique the first five listed.

#1  Autumn Dove. She needs to speak up.  You can see her looking down to read from her notes.  In general, this author isn't making the most of the opportunity a video pitch affords.  If you are just going to read your query letter on the video, in my opinion, you should just e-mail the query.  In a video pitch you should be able to speak off the cuff to describe your book, or make it seem like you are speaking off the cuff.  You can use visual aids.  Make it seem exciting and fun, lively.  It's like you are having a face to face pitch with the agent—you should never sit there and read the plot off index cards.  This is a vampire romance so I would pass; the competition is just too fierce.

2.  Chantee Hale. Keep eye contact with the camera, don't keep looking down.  Same comment about speaking more off the cuff.  But I love the changing visuals in the background!  This one is a pass for me because I don't see a high concept element.  Perhaps it would help if she started the pitch with a one sentence log-line so I could immediately get the concept.

3. Elizabeth Michels. Good eye contact!  She seems very natural, and although I do think she has memorized her pitch, it seems the closest to being informal of all the pitches so far.  I'm still looking for a more high concept idea, however, so this one would be a pass.

4. Janie Bill. I’d encourage this person to film another try because she makes a number of verbal missteps and it's distracting. She should edit the ending so that it doesn't end with her looking down.  This one was so long and detailed that I found it hard to follow, so I would not request the ms.

5. Jenna Wallace. LOVE THE TITLE.  I like her relaxed manner and this is a VERY cool idea.  Definitely want to see this one!  I think she could have filmed another try because she also has some verbal hiccups, but overall very well done.  Great pitch at the end where she compares it to Deliverance Dane and Jane Austen.  Also smart to give us her website at the end.

Wednesday
Jun222011

PitchFest Interview & Feedback - Jessica Alvarez with BookEnds

 

From Diane, Founder of Pitch U:

A big hello to the delightful Jessica Alvarez!  She’ll be at the RWA National Conference in New York, so you can get to know her here, then make sure to say hello in person there.

Her feedback is included after her interview below.  And while she doesn’t have time to answer questions today, you can leave your thanks in the comments. :)

Meet The Industry Pro:

jessica alvarez Name: Jessica Alvarez

Company/Title: BookEnds, LLC/Literary Agent

Length of Time In Industry: Ten years in publishing, just starting as an agent

Professional Affiliations: AAR.

Clients: Charlotte Featherstone, Lorrie Thomson, I’m still building my list!

Conference Pitch Confessions:

Here’s why I really go to conferences and take pitch appointments: To have the face-to-face contact with writers

Here’s how I wish writers would approach their time with me: Utilize every moment! If we have five minutes, and your pitch takes up two, spend the rest of your time asking me all the burning industry questions you’ve been dying to ask.

Of the appointments I take…

  • _90__% know their genre/sub-genre when asked (and their pitch reflects that genre).
  • _75__% know how to pitch and give good pitches that impress me.
  • _10__% seem scared out of their gourd.
  • _50__% of my “Yes, send me something” responses are due to having an good pitch alone.
  • _5__% of my “Yes, send me something” responses are because I worked hard to get information out of the writer.
  • _75__% of writers are comfortable having a conversation with me and answering questions about their books.
  • _25__% of writers come across as being ready for publication.
  • _90__% seem like nice people despite all other issues.

When I get home…

  • __25_% of manuscripts I request are actually sent.
  • __50_% of requests are sent within 30 days.
  • __75_% of the requests sent do, indeed, reflect what I though the story would be about.

Query Religious Argument:

The title, genre, and wordcount belongs…

  • ___ Before the book “pitch” paragraphs
  • ___ After the book “pitch” paragraphs
  • _x_ Makes no difference to me
  • ___ I don’t read the query first, and that information is a minor consideration
  • ___ Other:

Industry Pro Scenario:

You’ve found a book you love, and now you represent the author and must sell it to a publisher. Take us through your process:

I pitch over email. Editors are busy people and, frankly, when I was an editor, I hated having my work interrupted by pitches. I don’t have any great process for writing my pitch--I usually have an introductory paragraph, a paragraph or two of concise plot summary, and a closing paragraph.

The greatest amount of time is spent on plot summary. I will look at the author’s query and, if it’s good, I may use some of the material, or I may decide to take a different approach and address the plot in a slightly different way. Once I have it drafted, I run it past the BookEnds team and get their feedback, make some last minute changes and any personalization needed, send it out, and keep my fingers crossed!

Background:

How did you end up where you are now in the publishing industry?

I spent seven years at Harlequin on the editorial side, then spent three years as a freelance editor, proofreader and copywriter.

I’ve always loved the idea of being an agent and truly being able to advocate for my authors, and when the time was right, I got in touch with Jessica Faust at BookEnds and made my case for why she should hire me. BookEnds has a great reputation, fantastic authors and amazing agents, and I’m absolutely thrilled to be part of the team.

What are the 3 deals you’re most jazzed about?

Where can we meet you in person (conferences, workshops, conventions, etc.)? I’ll be at RWA in New York and at the New Jersey RWA conference in October. I haven’t finalized my 2012 schedule yet, but I will definitely be at RWA’s national conference.

Lighten the Mood and Get to Know You:

If you could name a sandwich and have it become famous… what would you name it and what would be on it?

It would be called the Jessica, of course. Maybe it would be a twist on a Vietnamese banh mi. How about a baguette with lemongrass grilled chicken, a dousing of Sriracha, and green papaya salad in place of lettuce?

Query & Pitch Feedback

QUERIES

Alison Beightol, FUNdraiser

Be sure to address your query to an agent.  While it sounds like it could be fun, I wonder if the story is a little too chick-litty for the current market.  Also, I wonder how well readers will respond to a madam heroine--I think there might be a built-in unlikability factor that might be difficult for some readers to get past.  You say the story has strong romantic elements, so I would have liked to see more of that in the pitch.  I noticed a few errors that should be corrected -- China with a capital C, and some missing commas in the last paragraph.  All in all, though, this is a good query.

Carrie Spencer, Manhunter

I have a question right off the bat--if your story is completed, why is the word count projected?  I think you need more of a transition between your first two sentences.  The shift feels abrupt.  And referencing Gilligan's Island and Columbo makes the story feel dated.   How did they tumble from the cruise ship?  I wish the reunion romance element had come across in the first paragraph--it was a surprise to me in the second, and it seems like that history would have been relevant in paragraph one.  I also think some of the information in the second paragraph should have been in the first--like why the drug lord follows them to Iowa.  You tell me that this is a romantic comedy, but I see little evidence of the comedic element in the query--it reads more like a straight romantic suspense.  Try to get some humor in it.  There are a few small errors--duffel bag, Mills & Boon, quotation marks around goodies.  A few small tweaks would go a long way toward improving this query. 

Evangeline Holland, A Mayfair Seduction

Overall, I think this is a good query.  I like your second paragraph, but I assume you mean "object of his assignment," not "objection of his assignment," right?  And who tricks him into this assignment?  Some of your sentences get a bit wordy and the phrasing seems a bit off, just some odd word choices that, actually, make me wonder if English is your second language.  Sorry!  They're not incorrect, just unusual.  Personally, I prefer that my British-set historicals have some kind of aristocratic element, but that isn't always necessary, especially for Harlequin Historical.  Who are the intimidating visitors?  If Roderick goes to the hotel as part of his assignment, does he really have a rightful claim on the property? I think we need a few more details on the nature of the assignment. 

Jennifer Probst, Once Again

Overall, I like this, and I'd be happy to take a look at the first three chapters and a synopsis. I like the role reversal--that he's the one who wants to settle down, and she's the one who wants some no-strings fun.  I like the history the characters have.  Is Sebastian a journalist?  Who is his posse?  One criticism, though, is that I kept on thinking that you were building up to a suspense element.  You might want to adjust some of your wording so other readers don't think that.  I know from the Pitch U heading that your books is a 60,000-word contemporary romance, but your query should have that information.  And I'd consider opening your query with, "Meet a woman battling her past. A man ready to settle down. A drunken night with no condom. And a pact to stay together until the stick turns blue...or not." 

Joanna Shupe, The Ex-Husband Next Door

You have unwittingly hit upon two of those things that I just don't connect with in romance.  I am a foodie, but for some reason, romance characters who work in the food industry almost never do it for me.  Just like some people don't like broccoli, there's no rhyme or reason to this preference.  With that said, I would never reject a book based on this reason alone.  But the second thing is this--I'm a bit tired of the "forced together by the terms of a will" plots.  I think it's overdone.  I'd need to see a unique plot twist to make me request a book with that hook.  Unfortunately, I don't see that here.  Some questions--why does Annie need to get her life back on track?  What happened?  If she walked out on him, why does he feel guilty?  Some positives, though, I like your introductory paragraph, and it's nice to hear you like the BookEnds blog. 

Larissa Hoffman, Portrait of a Dead Guy 

This is a good query.  I appreciate your opening paragraph, and I like the description of Cherry. It gives me a good sense of her character.  Though, I'm not crazy about all the clauses in the last sentence of your second paragraph.  I would like to know a bit more about Luke.  I would have appreciated that sentence being streamlined.  One question I had was why she needed the corpse for the portrait--why not just draw from a photo?  I'm not sure it's relevant that the townspeople are interrupting her work.  For your penultimate paragraph, personally, it doesn't matter to me whether you got encouraging reviews at a conference or if you've entered the manuscript in contests.  If you win a contest, sure, mention that, but I don't think its entry alone should be mentioned. 

Lori Ehrman Tinkey, Willing to Relocate

Your first paragraph is fine, though I feel like it's actually a little light on plot and I don't really know what your book is about.  I would have appreciated just a little more detail on plot specifics, not such a broad overview.  Your second paragraph, however, isn't as appealing as the first.  I don't like it when authors use superlatives in their queries.  I fully expect authors to think their books are the best, so it doesn't mean anything to me when you say yours is women's fiction at its best.  Your final two paragraphs are fine.  I don't think it normally works in an author's favor to reveal if it's her first book, but since it ties back to your career, I don't mind it here.

Rebecca Heflin, Lost Soul

Be sure to address your query to the agent, and it would be helpful to have a projected word count.  It isn't necessary to tell me in the first paragraph the pseudonym you'll be using--you can just include that in your signature.  Your second paragraph is all one sentence, and I would recommend splitting it up.  I have a few questions from this paragraph--why is her job in danger?  Why does her magazine hire Luke to be her pilot/guide?  He seems overqualified for the position and would surely be expensive--if her job is on the line, can her company afford him?  Your third paragraph is a bit vague for my liking.  It doesn't really tell me anything specific about the plot, just that exciting things will happen.  With your penultimate paragraph, I would cut the first two sentences--it makes me wonder about your first novel, and I'd hope any writer querying me would have other story ideas.

Rebecca Heflin, Promise of Change

Just like with the other query, please be sure to address it to an agent.  And again, don't bother mentioning your pseudonym here.  The second paragraph is a little confusing.  Is she applying for a promotion or job within her current company?  That should be clearer.  What was the situation that made her divorce public fodder?  There's a formatting error between the third and fourth paragraphs--I'm not sure if it's supposed to be a separate paragraph or pulled up to the previous line.  I think it should be a new paragraph.  How is it ironic that he comes back into her life?  How much of the story is told after this year-long separation?  I don't have a good sense of the novel's timeline.  And, just like in your first query, I would scratch the first sentence of your penultimate paragraph.

VIDEO PITCHES

Shadow Guardian by Autumn Dove

I'm not sure if there was a technical problem or if you're just a really quiet talker, but I had a hard time hearing your pitch.  So, forgive me if I have this wrong, but her stallion has a secret identity?  What is it?  The rest of your novel doesn't sound all that different from most paranormal novels, so if there's something special about her horse, perhaps you should mention more of that.  Also, how does the cougar attack play into the plot?  Is there any paranormal element to the cougar, or is it just a plain 'ol cougar?  Honestly, I'm not crazy about your heroine's name--I couldn't even begin to guess how to spell it and if I can't spell it, it might be difficult for readers to connect to.  You show some hints of your personality, and that was great, try to bring it out some more and have fun with your pitch. 

Heat by Chantee Hale

I really appreciate how brief your pitch was.  If was just long enough to give me the information I needed, but not bogged down with extraneous plot points or names of secondary characters.  I like how you begin the pitch with the heroine's pregnancy, and set up the situation with the ex and the hacker, but I would have liked to know how old your heroine is.  Between her age, the pregnancy, marriage and steaminess, I wonder how appropriate your book is for the YA market.  And I also wonder what makes it a dystopian?  Is it already a dystopian world before she learns of the plot to destroy life as they know it?  Also, I'm not sure we need to know that she was considering an abortion and couldn't afford it--that might turn off some readers.  I'm also not sure if her initial quest for revenge might also lessen reader sympathy for her.  Watch that you maintain eye contact with the person you're pitching to--I know that's hard when you're nervous and probably hard when you're just looking at a camera, but it helps make a personal connection.  But all in all, it was a very good pitch. 

Abigail's Secret by Elizabeth Michels

First, I love the amount of personality you show in this pitch.  You made it entertaining and that helped keep me interested.  Second, I liked that your pitch was short and to the point.  Though, I do want to know if the murderous plots the hero fled will come back to haunt him in Charleston.  Personally, I'm not a fan of time travel stories, but yours sounds cute and like it would be a fun read. 

Halo Light by Janie Bill

You show a lot of enthusiasm in your pitch, but sometimes you talk a little fast and, with so many plot elements, it's hard to keep up with you.  I'd suggest stripping down your pitch to the basic plot points: father goes overboard, girl gets halo light sight (which you need to define for us, and I'd suggest renaming it to avoid the rhyme), and uses it to search for her missing father, overcome a family curse and find the Fountain of Youth.  One thing I didn't understand is why Ivy thinks her father is still alive--is it because she sees ghosts, but doesn't see his?  The copper beam of light would make me think he's dead, but why doesn't Ivy think that?  I also didn't get a sense of the time period of your story--is this modern day, historical or futuristic?  Anyhow, my main piece of advice for you is to edit yourself, and see if you can cut your pitch in half. 

Somniloquy by Jenna Wallace

I really liked your pitch.  You told quite a bit about your plot, but it was easy to follow. You presented it professionally, but still with personality.  I like that your plot is different from the same-old paranormal plots that I usually see. I like the combined Scottish/Regency England settings.  Is Abby's mother dead?  Is Abby American?  Overall, though, a very good pitch. I'd like to take a look at the synopsis and first three chapters, please. 

Arcadia by Jesi Lea Ryan

To begin, I wouldn't bother mentioning your pseudonym.  Unless you've published with it to some success, I don't need to know your pseudonym in a pitch.  One thing that troubles me is that your heroine has a lot of difficult things she's dealing with, but her twin's death doesn't seem to matter all that much to her.  I'd think that would be the most difficult thing she might ever go through in her life.  Also, it seems awfully convenient to me that she just happens to have a telepathic neighbor.  And if other people have gifts, does that make her talents less special?  Since you're pitching the book as a romance, I would have liked to hear more about her love interest.  Your pitch is already longer than it needs to be, so you would need to do some paring back on other plot elements to fit in the romance. 

From Russia with Blood by Michael J. Lee

I like your title and the idea of a British vampire secret agent--it's a bit of a twist on the typical vampire heroes I see--but I wonder if more than anything in your pitch, it's my imagination doing the heavy lifting here after being told your book is James Bond meets Twilight.  Once you got to him living in America and the description of the heroine, you lost my interest.  I'd strip the phrase "everything you want" from your pitch--it's one of those things, like being told a book is the greatest, that turns me off since you don't know exactly what I want, and I assume you are going to be biased in favor of your own novel.  And once you get into the list of everything your novel contains, it feels like you're getting a bit desperate to sell it to me, and like you've lost your focus.  I'd recommend practicing your pitch a bit more, and don't feel you need to fill the entire allotted time.  If you end up having extra time with an agent or editor, use it to ask questions. 

Web of Deceit by Misty Dietz

Your pitch felt disjointed to me, and the characters seemed clichéd to me.  I think you go into too much detail about her flaws and insecurities, and should focus more on the suspense plot.  Her dreams about the suicide hotline seem particularly irrelevant.  I would also have liked for more of the romantic element to come across.  Truthfully, this sounded like many other novels in the genre and you didn't make me see what is unique about your particular story.

The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Myadev Thatte

This is a good pitch.  With that said, I think you could have focused a little less on the past (it gets repetitive at one point), and told us some more about her mother's mental illness and her fears of inheriting it.  I like the idea of the reunion romance, the homecoming, and the melding of Indian and American cultures.  Though some of your plot elements make me wonder if the story could veer toward melodrama, I'd be interested in learning more, and would be happy to take a look at a synopsis and the first three chapters

Cupid Meets His Match by Taylor Lunsford

This is what I like to see!  A short, tight pitch!  And if you hadn't stumbled a few times, it would have been even tighter.  So maybe rehearse a bit more so you can avoid stumbles.  Really, though, I thought this was pretty near flawless.  My additional critiques would be that you try to relax and have some more fun with your pitch--you looked nervous.  And I think perhaps you should categorize your novel as a contemporary romance with paranormal elements. 

Tuesday
Jun212011

PitchFest Interview & Feedback - Kate Schafer Testerman with kt literary

From Diane Holmes, Founder of Pitch U:

A big welcome to Literary Agent Kate Schafer Testerman, better known as Daphne Unfeasible. As the query letters poured in for Kate, we found ourselves asking, “What is this strange power she wields?”  We suspect it’s a strange super power over both wit and words.

Kate will be with us Wednesday morning, giving her feedback in the comments and answering questions between 10:00 a.m. - Noon, Mountain Time.

Please make her feel welcome! 

Meet The Industry Pro:

katephotoName: Kate Schafer Testerman

Company/Title: kt literary, llc.

Length of Time In Industry: 15 years

Professional Affiliations: Member of the AAR, SCBWI

Clients/Titles/Claims to Fame: Maureen Johnson, Stephanie Perkins, Matthew Cody, Ellen Booraem, Thomas E. Sniegoski, Ransom Riggs, Josie Bloss, Lili Wilkinson, and more!

When Pitching to Me:

What should Pitch U writers include in their pitch to you? Their query letter?

I don’t want writers sitting reading their pitch out loud to me, no. But I’d hope that they are so familiar with their story that they can tell it to me in a compelling, engaging manner.

Conference Pitch Confessions:

Here’s why I really go to conferences and take pitch appointments:

To mingle with other agents and editors.

Here’s how I wish writers would approach their time with me:

As an opportunity for feedback on their presentation. For the most part, if I like a pitch, I’ll ask for the same material as I would if I liked a written query, which anyone is welcome to send to me. It’s only the truly exceptional pitches that have me jumping right to a request for the first five chapters.

Of the appointments I take…

  • _90__% know their genre/sub-genre when asked (and their pitch reflects that genre).
  • _50__% know how to pitch and give good pitches that impress me.
  • _10__% seem scared out of their gourd.
  • _5__% of my “Yes, send me something” responses are due to having a good pitch alone.
  • _1__% of my “Yes, send me something” responses are because I worked hard to get information out of the writer.
  • _50__% of writers are comfortable having a conversation with me and answering questions about their books.
  • _5__% of writers come across as being ready for publication.
  • _80__% seem like nice people despite all other issues.

When I get home…

  • _99.9__% of manuscripts I request are actually sent.
  • _90__% of requests are sent within 30 days.
  • _80__% of the requests sent do, indeed, reflect what I thought the story would be about.

Query Religious Argument:

The title, genre, and wordcount belongs…

  • ___ Before the book “pitch” paragraphs
  • ___ After the book “pitch” paragraphs
  • _X__ Makes no difference to me
  • ___ I don’t read the query first, and that information is a minor consideration
  • ___ Other:

Industry Pro Scenario:

Take us through your process: When you prepare to pitch this book, who are the different audiences you have to “sell” on it?

When I love a manuscript, I like to work with the author to polish it until it’s ready for submission. Once we’re there, I put together a list of ideal editors, based on my previous interactions with them, other titles I know they’ve edited, or things they’ve talked about as being interested in.

Once I have that list together, I’ll discuss with the author, in case there’s any they’d like me to add – say, someone the author met at a conference, or who might have read an early partial of their manuscript.

Once we have the final list, I start making calls. I like to pitch projects over the phone, and then follow up with a written pitch via email with the material. I love being creative with the pitch letter, though I will often look back at the author’s original query to me, and see if it includes any particularly great turns of phrase that I want to use, or paragraphs I may steal whole hog for my letter.

Ideally, that’s all it takes! Sometimes, however, if a manuscript doesn’t sell on an initial round of submissions, we may tweak the manuscript or the pitch to make it even better – and keep going until we have a deal, or an even better next novel to sell instead.

Background:

How did you end up where you are now in the publishing industry?

I always knew I wanted to work with books. When I was ready to settle down and find a real job after college, I answered every classified ad for an entry-level position in publishing until I talked my way into a subsidiary rights assistant job. With thanks to great contacts, hard work, and years of experience, I opened my own agency in 2008, and have been going strong ever since!

What are the 3 deals you’re most jazzed about?

I’m tremendously excited for the first book in Maureen Johnson’s new “Shades of London” series, THE NAME OF THE STAR, which comes out in September. Putnam will publish in North America, HarperCollins will publish in the UK, Brillance will do the audio, and almost a dozen other publishers have licensed it around the world.

I also can’t wait for Stephanie Perkins’ follow-up to ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS to be released! LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR comes out from Dutton in September as well, and will be followed by ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER a year later.

And I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m working on a new deal for one of my current clients that I think is going to be really, really special. More soon, hopefully!

Where can we meet you in person (conferences, workshops, conventions, etc.)?

Because I just had a baby (he’s almost five months old, and is known on the internet as Beauregard Mozark Unfeasible-Implausible), I cut down quite a bit on my travel schedule for 2011.  (From Diane:  Best name ever!)

That said, I will be at Leaky Con 2011’s Lit Day in Orlando in July, and will be doing a workshop for my local Rocky Mountain SCBWI chapter in August. Beyond that, I’m available for conferences, and I love to travel, so please do be in touch if you’re organizing something.

Pitching Insights:

What’s the difference between a book that should sell but doesn’t and a book that actually sells?

I wish I knew! I’ve had some great manuscripts that the author and I both loved, but weren’t able to place. Sometimes it’s timing – maybe I’m going out with something at the same time as another book on the subject, or just after. Sometimes it’s market conditions – when everyone is looking for high fantasy, it can be hard to sell something gritty, or place a contemporary MG when everyone says they want speculative fiction. Sometimes everything can seem to be right for a book to be a huge success, and it just doesn’t happen. If there was one clear answer, I wouldn’t be a literary agent, I’d be a psychic!

Lighten the Mood and Get to Know You:

If you could command any writer (living or dead) to write a book of your design, who would you choose and what would she/he write?

I’d ask William Goldman to finish the sequel to THE PRINCESS BRIDE he teased us with in the anniversary edition!

What’s the wisest thing you’ve ever said?

Always pack an extra pair of shoes.

Who do you admire most in the publishing industry?

This is going to sound like sucking up, because it’s someone I’d love to sell a book to, but Alvina Ling at Little Brown. She’s always made such interesting choices as an editor, but what I most admire is her commitment to her friends. Some of her biggest authors are people she’s known for years, and their careers have grown along with Alvina’s. Plus, I’m totally jealous that she’s working on Laini Taylor’s amazing-sounding new novel!

Tuesday
Jun212011

PitchFest Interview & Feedback - Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst Literary Management

From Diane, Founder of Pitch U:  Welcome to the lovely Vickie Motter, who will be with us  (in the comments, of course!) today and Thursday. (So, ask her all your questions about pitching!)

She’ll be posting her feedback on out 10 video pitches plus her query letters!  So watch the videos and see her query letters, look under the June PitchFest tab on the top menu.  If you don't see this option, reload your page.  I just added it!

Give_a_CheerQuery Letter Bonus:  Vickie kindly upped her query cap.  Everyone who submitted is getting feedback!  (Thank you, Vickie!)

Video Bonus:  If your video was not chosen, I still want to reward you for making the fearless leap in learning to pitch. 

I’ll be providing you feedback personally, so you can up your game for RWA Nationals and all your in-person pitch sessions.

MEET THE INDUSTRY PRO:

vickie Name : Vickie Motter

Company /Title : Andrea Hurst Literary Management / Literary Agent

Length of Time In Industry : One Year

WHEN PITCHING TO ME:

 What should Pitch U writers include in their pitch to you? Their query letter?

Stick with the basics: Name, title, genre, word count, short bio (if relevant, otherwise leave it out), plot overview (not a synopsis)

CONFERENCE PITCH CONFESSIONS:

Here's why I really go to conferences and take pitch appointments:

I spend so much time on my computer, I love being able to meet the writers on a face-to-face level, and talking about everything having to do with this business; everyone there wants to be there and loves what they are doing. The passion is infectious. Pitch appointments help us, the agent, see who is ready and who is not, who is dedicated and who didn't take the time to prepare. Plus it's fun watching writers squirm! (just kidding)

Here's how I wish writers would approach their time with me:

Relax, please, I'm just a person. Show me your passion for your novel. I appreciate when writers take advantage of the time they have; if you have extra time, ask a question. We're there to help.

Of the appointments I take...

  • 75% know their genre/sub-genre when asked (and their pitch reflects that genre).
  • 30% know how to pitch and give good pitches that impress me.
  • 50% seem scared out of their gourd.
  • 90% of my "Yes, send me something" responses are due to having a good pitch alone.
  • 10% of my "Yes, send me something" responses are because I worked hard to get information out of the writer.
  • 20% of writers are comfortable having a conversation with me and answering questions about their books.
  • 20% of writers come across as being ready for publication.
  • 99% seem like nice people despite all other issues.

When I get home...

  • 50% of manuscripts I request are actually sent.
  • 75% of requests are sent within 30 days.
  • 75% of the requests do, indeed, reflect what I though the story would be about.

QUERY RELIGIOUS ARGUMENT:

The title, genre, and word count belongs...

___ Before the book "pitch paragraphs
___ After the book "pitch" paragraphs
___ Makes no difference to me
___ I don't read the query first, and that information is a minor consideration
_X_ Other: It will depend on your query. I do like knowing the genre before I start reading, but I also like diving directly into the query. Put it wherever, but keep it short and to the point.

INDUSTRY PRO SCENARIO:

Agent: you've found a book you love, and now you represent the author and must sell it to a publisher. Take us through your process.

I have the advantage of being another step removed from the novel when creating the pitch/query. I know what’s important to include and what’s not. I’ll boil it down to the most important points (whereas some writers try to shove too much or too little into the queries).

Since the writer is too close to the ms, he/she needs to use critique groups, online resources, professional advice, and conferences to perfect it.

When creating a verbal pitch for the book, I’ll talk to many people about it, and talk to myself about it, trying to boil it down to a one or two liner to get people’s attention (this also helps in creating the written pitch because I know what’s important).

Gauge people’s responses to the verbal pitch. If they ask more questions, your pitch isn’t specific enough. If their eyes glaze over, you probably have too much info. And it should be short enough for you to rattle off from the top of your head (no reading allowed).

BACKGROUND:

How did you end up where you are now in the publishing industry?

Right out of college, I interned with Andrea Hurst and from there realized that being an agent is what I wanted to do with my life, so it went from there.

Where can we meet you in person (conferences, workshops, conventions, etc.)?

This summer I'm hitting local conferences in Western Washington: Chuckanut Writer's Conference in Bellingham, PNWA in Bellevue, WWW in Lynnwood

PITCHING INSIGHTS:

What's the difference between a book that should sell but doesn't and a book that actually sells?

Voice. Depth of character. Mood of the market. Phase of the moon. Really, sometimes there is no way of knowing. But here’s the thing that will always help: passion. And if you can generate more passion for your book (with your agent, editor, online following), you’ll have a really good chance at it.

LIGHTEN THE MOOD AND GET TO KNOW YOU:

If you could name a sandwich and have it become famous...what would you name it and what would be on it?

The Deliciousness Deluxe. I’m not entirely sure what would be on it, but it would have a lot of sauerkraut.

If you could command any writer (living or dead) to write a book of your design, who would you choose and what would she/he write?

I’d really like Diana Peterfreund (author of the Killer Unicorn series, also known as Rampant ) to write a book about the dangers of squirrels.

Who do you admire most in the publishing industry?

Book Bloggers! They make the world go round. And my reading list to expand exponentially.

If you were ruler of the universe, how would you change the publishing world?

I would expose young kids to good books (more recent books that they actually want to read) at an earlier age and expose them to classics at an older age so they don’t get turned off of reading and forget to change their mind later in life.

 -----  And now… watch for Vickie’s feedback in the comments. :)

Sunday
Jun192011

Nerves of Steel: Waiting for PitchFest Results

Rom U logoWelcome to June Young Adult, Middle Grade, & Romance PitchFest “Feedback Week” (in partnership with our friends at Romance U!).

Okay, this is the post to pay attention to.  We’ll be updating it with key information for our PitchFest Writers.

Q. How many submissions did you get?

Number of Submissions: 92!

We’re in the process of verifying each submission, so this number may change, but congratulations times 92.

Q. When do I get my feedback?!

This week is devoted to receiving agent feedback, and we let each agent schedule her own slot.  This information is easily available on the June PitchFest page, and we’ll put it here just to make things easy.

vickieVickie Motter with Andrea Hurst & Associates – Tuesday all day, June 21st & Thursday June 23, 2011

katephotoKate Schafer Testerman of KT literary- Wednesday morning, June 22, 2011.

Jessica Alvarez with BookEnds - Thursday morning, June 23, 2011.

 

JennyJenny Bent of The Bent AgencyThursday evening, June 23, 2011.

brianneBrianne Mulligan with Movable Type Literary Group – Friday morning, June 24, 2011. 

Lucy CarsonLucy Carson with The Friedrich Agency - Friday morning, June 24, 2011.

SaritzaSaritza Hernandez with L.Perkins  Agency – Saturday evening, June 25, 2011.

Q.  What can we expect this week?

1.  Cool interviews with each agent to give you pitching insights.

2. A chance to learn from the feedback, whether you submitted anything or not.

3. Some agents will also be answering questions in the comments (see the June PitchFest page).  So, if there’s something you don’t understand from the feedback or you just have a burning question, this is your chance to learn from a true industry expert.

4. A bonus for those who submitted a video pitch but were not selected for the 10 videos to receive feedback from our panel of agents.

Q. When will I learn if my submission made it?

Video Submissions: Tuesday Morning.

Query Submissions: At your agent’s appointed day/time.  See above.

Wait!  You didn’t answer my question!

No prob.  Just email Diane at PitchUniversity@gmail.com . She’ll be updating this post over the next 3 days.

Friday
Jun172011

How Do You Pitch Your Novel? (Step #4 Savvy Author Pitch Video Practice)

LOOKING FOR PITCHFEST INFO?  Go Here: Rules, Open For Submissions, Secret Info.

Arrows pointing out stuff

Welcome to the 4th and final step in our Savvy Author Pitch Mentoring week, where you…

Go From Zero to “Look I’m Pitching!”

To catch up on previous posts go here:

Pitch Video Feedback

I asked our intrepid Savvy Authors to create a Pitch Video to complete their learning experience.  And by experience, you know I mean “blow your mind, work your fingers to nubs, feel the fear, and embrace your inner Pitch Geek,” don’t you?

Yes, I thought you did.

Well, that’s what these ladies did.  I’ll have at least one video tomorrow, as well, but below is your opportunity to follow along & become Savvy in the ways of Pitch.

Let’s not be perfect, okay?

One thing that writers worry about is perfection.

Well, stop that. 

Let’s go ahead and aim for Not Perfect.   Because anything you try, learn, improve on, and try again is going to be better than where you started.

So let’s aim for better.  Enough of this perfect nonsense.

The videos you’re about to see are much, much better than most writers do in pitch appointments.  And they’re not perfect.  And that’s really good news.  These videos prove that it’s possible to take on something and become better.  And it’s okay to try, grow, and learn more.

And I’m so VERY impressed with these ladies.  Watch with me, and I’ll give my impression of the next steps they need to take in their pitching education.

Victoria Torres, author of Redesigning Trista

 

 

Hi, Victoria! 

You present very well!  You have a very professional look, and I'm sure an agent or publisher can imagine putting you in front of the public (which is something they actually think about).

I love how well you articulate, and while most folks talk way too fast, you could almost speed up a bit.  When you say, “She’s busting out!” I feel like there’s this spark of excitement, and that’s what we need to see more of.

Here are some pointers when working on excitement:

1) Move away from reading/memorizing.  When you’re focused on the specific words you’re about to say, you can’t focus on the emotion or the other person.  So reading/memorizing often kills excitement.

2) Since you don’t know where to focus your eyes (in part because there’s a camera instead of a person, and in part because you’re thinking so hard), you can end up coming across as disengaged/lack of excitement.

When doing video, draw a face or use a magazine picture and tape it right next to/behind the camera.  When you’re looking at someone’s eyes (even fake eyes), it helps you look engaged and excited.

When delivering a pitch in person, if it feels too intense to look at someone directly in the eyes (while trying to think and speak at the same time), try looking slightly off, but still around the person’s face (a curl, a cheekbone, eyeglass frames, an earring).  You’ll still be able to feel grounded because you’re looking at the person, even if you don’t have your gaze locked with hers.

3) Steal Pitch U Hall of Famer Angelica Jackson’s advice to do some takes where you completely over dramatize (in funny voices and with strange faces) your pitch.  When you come back to “normal,” you’ll be more likely to convey emotion and excitement.  Great fun!

Janie Bill, author of Halo Light

 

 

Wow, Janie.  You’ve done a great job with eye contact, clear speech, professional appearance… so impressive.  (And seriously, you ladies look great!  Kinda intimidating for us regular folk.)  And you have plenty of emotion and excitement in your pitch. Really great.

Much like Victoria, your next step is moving away from Memorizing/Reading into more of a conversation.  Think of it as gossiping with a friend.  “OH! I just read the best book.  You’re gonna love it.  It’s about a girl who….”

Start paying attention to when you do this in real life.  Doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about food, a good sunset, or (as they say in the Princess Bride) a rodent of unusual size.

You’ll start to notice the changes in cadence that happen, the swell of emotion, then back down, then excited again as you talk. Again, I’m very impressed.

Michele Barrow-Belisle, author of Query for Fire & Ice

 

 

Hi, Michele!

You have a lovely voice and the perfect speaking speed.  Love how you vary your pace, pause, and raise and lower your voice to be more conversational.  Great smile at the end, and you seem at ease.  Wow.

Okay, Diane’s helpful hints:

1)  Move your hair a bit out of your face.  People who have "big hair," (hey, I come from the land of big hair in Texas, so I say that with love) can have a split-second "first impression" of hair, instead of the eye-contact and smile that begins a relationship.

2)  Your next step is to move from reading/memorizing your pitch to more of a conversational pitch.   You're one of the best readers I've seen.  If you told me you were a newscaster who read teleprompters, I'd believe it!  But if you read a pitch in person, you won't be able to look at the agent or editor.  And if you memorize a complicated pitch (really your query letter), you may forget everything once nerves hit.  Then what?

So, work on having the freedom to be more freeform. You know.  Like clay. 

(Couldn’t resist.)

---

I should have at least one more Savvy Author video tomorrow.  And whew, what a fan-tabulous week (a week that stretched into two)!

Until next time,

Diane Holmes avatar  Diane Holmes, Founder and Chief Alchemist of Pitch U

Friday
Jun172011

36 Hours Left! (Super Secret PitchFest Info)

Okay, you know we’re running a Fabulous Romance, YA, and MG PitchFest with 7 literary agents (goddesses, who are we kidding!).

Jessica Alvarez with BookEnds
Lucy Carson with The Friedrich Agency
Saritza Hernandez with L.Perkins Agency
Vickie Motter with Andrea Hurst & Associates
Brianne Mulligan with Movable Type Literary Group
Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency
Kate Schafer Testerman of KT literary

And you’re probably thinking if you haven’t entered, you have no chance…. 

But here’s the Super Secret…  we don’t do first-come, first-served.  We have several criteria, so that the PitchFest is as valuable as possible to you, me, and the Industry Pros.  Even if the Agents have met their query cap, that doesn’t mean you won’t get in. (See the rules.)

Super Secret Info

There a 100% chance that if you submit to an agent who doesn’t reach her cap that you’ll get feedback.  Obvious, but it’s worth pointing out.

With 36 hours to go, here’re who still has opening before hitting their caps:

  • Brianne Mulligan
  • Lucy Carson
  • Saritza Hernandez
  • Vickie Motter

You’re welcome.

(But remember... just because submissions have reached the number of an agent's cap--say, 10, for example--doesn't mean yours won't get chosen if it comes in after the initial 10.  It's not first come. first served.  Once the cap is reached, then we look at the criteria as mentioned in the rules under the sub-head YES, YOU MAY...)

--

Diane Holmes, Founder & Chief Alchemist at Pitch U

Monday
Jun132011

YA & Romance PitchFest OPEN FOR SUBMISSIONS – 7 Agents + YOU

Are you getting ready for pitch appointments at the fabulous Romance Writers of America (RWA) National Conference?  Yeah, baby, that’s what we thought!

Suddenly, you realize you need to figure out your pitch.  You need help.  Lots and lots of help.

Girl Yelling

Pitch U has partnered with Romance University, and honey, we’ve got your back.  We’re here with our 100% Free, YA (all genres) & Romance JUNE PitchFest.  Read rules HERE.

The Agents

 Jessica Alvarez with BookEnds
 Lucy Carson with The Friedrich Agency
 Saritza Hernandez with L.Perkins Agency
 Vickie Motter with Andrea Hurst & Associates
 Brianne Mulligan with Movable Type Literary Group
 Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency
 Kate Schafer Testerman of KT literary.

In a nutshell:

  1. We’re accepting only 10 Pitch Videos (maximum 2 minutes) total. If you submit a video, you’ll receive feedback from every agent (unless agent notes a limit). This is a HUGE benefit!
  2. We’re accepting query letters addressed to one agent only. Each agent will specify the number of queries (a query cap) and her personal focus.
      You may submit multiple projects, but you may only submit the same project to 1 agent.

Submit this week.  Get feedback next week.

(And for all of us who will miss the RWA mega-conference, this PitchFest is about seizing opportunity.  Just because you won’t be there doesn’t mean you can’t catch the eye of an excellent agent.)

How to Get the Romance U Priority Treatment

Yes, Romance University writers will have priority for submissions! And it’s easy to become on of their writers.  You do this by going to their site

Instantly, you have that warm feeling of belonging.  Visit a few additional pages while you’re there.  Check them out, & see what they have to offer. :) If you want priority treatment, just follow their instructions.  It’s easy.  Then come back here.

June PitchFest

When you visit our June PitchFest page, you’ll find the following information:

  1. Meet the Literary Agents (7 agents, cute pictures, links to interviews and websites, what they’re looking for, their caps, and when they’ll join us NEXT week to give their feedback).
  2. How Do I Participate?
  3. How Does the PitchFest Unfold?
  4. First Timers.
  5. What Can You Submit?
  6. Video Specifics.
  7. How Do I Make a Video?
  8. Query Letter Specifics.
  9. When Can You Submit?
  10. Final Step.

How to Craft a Pitch

Here are some of my favorite posts on writing and delivering pitches:

But don’t get bogged down in “having to learn everything”!  It’s almost impossible to learn everything, then apply it, then meet the deadline.

Instead… improve, learn more than you knew, try your best.  Do it.

Examples of Pitch Videos

Here are links to video pitches submitted by our former PitchFest writers.  They rock, and you’ll learn a lot by watching.

Questions?

Contact me at PitchUniversity@gmail.com .

--

Diane Holmes Crop 1

Diane Holmes, Founder and Chief Pitch Alchemist

Friday
Jun102011

Create the D@m! Pitch! (Step #3 - Tips for Writing a Pitch for your Book)

This post is part of Savvy Author Pitch Mentoring week here at Pitch U. For a handy index of what we’ve done so far, go HERE.

Be strong babyOkay, so you’ve done great work.  You’ve checked your pitch for story accuracy (Step #1) and gotten through the story course correction of "not THIS but THAT” (Step #2).

And the reward?  More work?  Are you serious?! 

LOL.  I feel your pain.  But you’re so very close to your goal of creating a killer pitch.  So gut it out, okay?

Good.  I knew you were made of strong stuff.  You’ve got what it takes.  Darn straight you do!

So let’s talk about Step # 3 creating the actual pitch.  Behind the scenes our 6 Savvy Authors are working away on their pitches, sending me versions and getting more comments in return.

While they’re busy, let’s talk about what a pitch is and isn’t.

How to Create A Pitch by Thinking

Here are some ways to think about your pitch:

  • Think about the world of your story as the story opens.  If your main character moves to a new world quickly, then think about that as well.
  • Think about the opening event that seems to be a disaster.
  • Think about the disaster and what your character thinks is the solution.
  • Think about the story’s tone and the main character’s voice.
  • Think about the genre expectations.
  • Think about where the story and your character end up in the 3rd Act.

How to Create a Pitch by Identifying “What It’s Like”

If you can find verbal “short hand” for your story, you can create a quick understanding in the mind of the agent, editor, or reader.

  • Is the story similar to another book, movie, myth, archetype, or current event?
  • Is the character cut from the same cloth as another character, celebrity, or well-known contemporary or historical person?
  • Does the main problem remind you of a challenge or slogan that has gained wide-spread understanding?
  • Is there an aspect of your story that “is what we all wish we would do if we only had the nerve”?
  • If your story or character a tribute to something well known?
  • Does your story or character reference or embody a specific era or generation?
  • Does your story touch on a universal question or truth?
  • Does your concept have a twist that makes it better than what we’ve read before?  More over-the-top?  Unexpected?
  • Does your story or character challenge genre expectations?
  • Have you transported some familiar aspect to a different context, time, generation, setting, or viewpoint?
  • Is there something unique in the way the story is told?

What’s Next For Our Savvy Authors?

I’ve spoken with our 6 winners, and they’d like some extra time to find their pitches.  No problem! 

Over the next few days, we’ll finish Step #3 for each winner, and we’ll post Pitch videos for you to see.

Meanwhile…

We have a PitchFest coming up!  You can start submitting on Sunday, so I’ll be posting details ASAP.

Remember hang tough, gut it out, and be strong.  After all, you’re a writer.

--Diane Holmes, Founder and Chief Alchemist of Pitch U

Thursday
Jun092011

Creating Crazy Fierce Query Letters & Pitches

fierce attitudeWe’re in the midst of Savvy Author Pitch Mentoring week here at Pitch U.

Six Savvy Authors won the chance to work 1-on-1 with me to create killer query letters and book pitches.

It’s been absolutely intense, and there’s more to come this week.

But I have to give a shout out to these 6 awesome authors.  They’re crazy fierce, and there’s nothing about being a writer that doesn’t need this attitude.

Michele Barrow-Belisle, author of Query for Fire & Ice

STEP #1  Analysis of Story Expectation   (Is this Query/Pitch Accurate?)
STEP #2  Course Correction/Pitch *THIS* Not *THAT*

 

Kat Latham, Query for No Fragile Heart

STEP #1  Analysis of Story Expectation (Is this Query/Pitch Accurate?)
STEP #2  Course Correction/Pitch *THIS* Not *THAT*


Lani Rhea, author of Rising Currents: Louisiana Moon

STEP #1  Analysis of Story Expectation (Is this Query/Pitch Accurate?)
STEP #2  Course Correction/Pitch *THIS* Not *THAT*


Janie Bill, author of Halo Light

STEP #1  Analysis of Story Expectation (Is this Query/Pitch Accurate?)
STEP #2  Course Correction/Pitch *THIS* Not *THAT*


Leslie A. Dow, author of Internet Millionaire’s Copilot

STEP #1  Analysis of Story Expectation (Is this Query/Pitch Accurate?)
STEP #2  Course Correction/Pitch *THIS* Not *THAT*


Victoria Torres, author of Redesigning Trista

STEP #1  Analysis of Story Expectation (Is this Query/Pitch Accurate?)
STEP #2  Course Correction/Pitch *THIS* Not *THAT*

 

…So, what’s next for our Savvy Authors?

THURSDAY & FRIDAY June 9th – Step #3 - Create Revised Pitch and Query.
SATURDAY June 11th – Step #4 – 6 Pitch Videos -  See how it's done!

Work On Your Query & Pitch!

There’s some wonderful, peer-to-peer work (57 comments so far!) going on in the comments of the first post HERE.

Wednesday
Jun082011

Pitch *THIS* Not *THAT* – Step #2 in Creating a Killer Query & Pitch (part 6 – Halo Light)

This post is part of the Savvy Author Pitch Mentoring Week that starts HERE.

Swamp lightIt’s finally Janie turn!  Follow along as Janie replies to my comments on her query, which is how we correct the query/pitch focus to “this, not that.”

And at the end … we plan Janie’s Pitch!

Query for Halo Light by Janie Bill

Hi Diane:

For the first comment you gave:

Expectation:  This is the story that starts with Ivy who goes out to “Disappearing Island” (love that name!) with her father, and he dies.  She feels it’s her fault, and he’s not really dead.  (Is he just missing?  Did she see the body?  Is there actually hope, or is this just powerful denial?)

Yes. Dead-on accurate with your interpretations. She didn't find his body and she is wondering all the same questions you asked. That is why she goes to see a psychic.

Expectation: Ivy is desperate, seeks mystical advice, and is given a quest into the enchanted swamps in search of the Fountain of Youth!    Love her special gift of “halo light.”  Don’t know what it is, but I suspect it has to do with seeing halos of light to guide her down the right path.  Oh… wait there’s a family curse.  and Ancestors.  Okay, so it’s not a story about a search for her father?

Yes, again with your interpretation. Through the accidents, Ivy learns her family is cursed and sets out on a quest to end their suffering, which will save her parents - well, she hopes it will save her mother who is in a coma and wishes it would bring back her dad, but she isn't sure where he is, dead, has amnesia somewhere, or possibly floating in an in-between realm.

Expectations:  Well, suddenly she’s done grieving, and an “ideal guy” shows up in the swamp.  And a commune leader.  And Joel is a devil dweller?  What?  And she learns to appreciate her heritage.  I think maybe Dad doesn’t end up mattering?  And she forgets about the Fountain of Youth?

Okay, what I suspect is that this is a traditional hero’s quest novel, and all this stuff is actually part of the “perils and tests” section in the enchanted swamp (to prove that she’s worthy of finding the Fountain of Youth and getting her Dad back).   But you’ll have to tell me!  Let me know where I’m in-line with your story and where I’m off in the weeds.

You're right, again. The story is a traditional quest plot. All of these obstacles occur in the second and third Acts, the middle and the ending. You are correct that these events take place during her journey to end the curse as her "perils and tests."

The thrust of the motivation for Ivy is to bring back her dad, which ties into saving her mother. The one act of finding the Fountain of Youth and performing a certain act that will right the wrongs of her ancestors will save both parents by putting an end to a family curse. The second parent's life becomes endangered as a way to show that Ivy's suffering and traumatic incidences will continue unless she ends the curse. An undeniable motivation for her to leave home.

I included the part about Joel because when I have pitched to agents, they asked whether there was a love interest. They actually became eager to look at the full manuscript after being assured it was incorporated into the plot.

Should I stop my query at the end of Act I or continue describing events by mentioning key points of her "perils and tests" that takes place in the middle and ending of the story? If I continue, should I give more details about the "perils and tests" she faces?

Diane’s Reply:  Well, I have an opinion, of course!  Can’t run Pitch U without an opinion!  I think ultimately you need to do the most effective query or pitch for your book.  But let me answer this in general.

In general I think you need to capture the unique coolness of the front of the story, and then you imply how it will unfold and just be awesome. 

This is the the same thing you do when you recommend a book you love to a friend.  You don’t give away the reading experience, but you want to make sure they understand what excited you when you starting reading it.  And you want to make sure they get the “type” of reading experience… which translates to an expectation of “where things go.”

For example, just because a book opens with a murder doesn’t mean it’s a murder mystery.  It could be a coming-of-age story, or a horror story, or a war story. 

Here’s an example:  When a young man’s older brother is murdered (murder mystery?), he deals with his anger by joining the Air Force at the height of WWII (war story?), and ultimately becomes embroiled in a plot to help the beautiful German woman he loves get her young children out of the country (ah, a war-time romance!).

So back to coolness and awesomeness, you’ll notice I didn’t say, “you need to include the protagonist, antagonist, villain, inner or outer motivation, conflict, goal, motivation, or any number of other topics.”  Yeah, a lot of that often gets included. 

But the way I look at pitches and queries is that you’re trying to capture attention by delight… and get a YES.  

Be cool.

Be awesome.

Be effective.

Plan to Go from Query to Pitch

As I think about your book, I love the mystical realism and the links to very specific native American and Florida myth and history.  And the story is a true knights-tale of going into the forest and being lost, and having to pass tests in the search for the ultimate boon to restore the kingdom.  Good stuff.

You have this poignant opening with the loss of her father, and her thinking of him still wandering with amnesia.  Sob.  And then her mother, too, falls ill. 

I love when you talk about how she consults a Fuentes mystic and enters the enchanted swamps of the Everglades in search of the everlasting Fountain of Youth. 

And… she must end a family curse not only for her parents but for all her ancestors. Relying upon nothing more than her special sight of Halo Light she must make the long, impossible journey.

I do think you should include her task at the Fountain and how her ancestors going back to the time of Ponce de Leon imprisoned souls, and how she must un-do their damage.  And, yes, how she meets Joel who continually promises he can show her where the everlasting waters are.  But the deeper they go, the more dangerous the path, as the spirit known as “Tiger Tail” lures her to her death.

I know this seems like a lot, but I think with clever wording (ha, I know), you’ll come up with something manageable, and I’ll be happy to see if I can shorten it.

Wednesday
Jun082011

Pitch *THIS* Not *THAT* – Step #2 in Creating a Killer Query & Pitch (part 5 – Louisiana Moon)

This post is part of the Savvy Author Pitch Mentoring Week that starts HERE.

It’s Lani Rhea’s turn!  Follow along as Lani replies to my comments on her query, which is how we correct the query/pitch focus to “this, not that.”

And finally… we plan Lani’s Pitch!

Query for Rising Currents: Louisiana Moon by Lani Rhea

You can read her query and my comments HERE.

moon She sent me the following insight into her story which helps clear up a lot of questions:

Diane,

Kris Knight is a female. LOL I like to use guy names for some dang reason. It's a passion of mine. =) What you offered is very helpful. I'll get right to it and start patching the holes. There won't be a ménage taking place in this story. It's an Urban Fantasy erotic romance

Kris, as you know, was lovers with Ryant, the vampire. She saves the human, Darin, and after Ryant accidentally places the first vampire mark on her, she feels sexually attracted and sleeps with Darin. Ryant views Kris as his, only his, and tries to bust them apart. So he places a second mark on Kris to invade her dreams, to make her think of only him.

<REDACTED: Lani shared information about how her books ends, and I don’t want to spoil the read for her future readers.>

Did this make sense? I hope so. lol

Thank you,

Lani

NEW Query for Rising Currents: Louisiana Moon by Lani Rhea

Lani also took a stab at a new query.  I just love that sort of willingness in a writer!  Just try again: it’s a great motto. And she did this on a very quick turn around. 

I’ve re-worded and re-ordered here and there (for clarity), but this version is much, much clearer!  Good job, Lani.

(You Savvy Authors are amazing!)

 

Dear Agent/Editor,

Rising Currents: Louisiana Moon is a 70,000-word, Erotic Urban Fantasy  Romance set in Louisiana.

In a world where werewolves protect humans against vampires, Kristina Knight, a werewolf bounty hunter, rescues a human, Darin James, from the vampire cult, Truce Brotherhood.

Lani, Is this the opening scene?

When her ex-vampire lover, Ryant, appears on the pretext on protecting her from the cult, she isn’t ready to trust him again. Especially not after he’d made his choice clear years ago over her parent’s death.

This last sentence needs some clarification.  Did he kill her parents? 

Ryant Starga must protect Kris from the Soul Demons who are trying to use hoodoo magic to get their hands on her (and her blood).  With her Royal blood, if they succeed, they’d govern the preternatural world, leaving no creature safe.

Are Soul Demons part of the cult?

In spite of their years apart, once he sees her, he’s unable to keep his hands or mind off her.  And trying to keep Darin out of the picture is a challenge.

With Darin stepping over boundaries, will Ryant gain respect from Kris, only to lose her again? Can he hope for a future? Can there be a love triangle, or will there be separations? Will they all live long enough to find out?

I’m not a big fan (in most cases) of asking questions as part of a query.  I think it relies on the reader being very interested in finding out the answers. ;)

Okay, here’s what to work on next: 

1)  I don’t have a sense from this query about how the story will unfold once we have this set-up in place.  Kristina rescues Darin.  Ryant tells Kristina he has to protect her.  Then what?   Are they hiding in one place?  Running for their lives?  Using one side against the other?  Captured and must escape? Join the cult?  Head off on a romantic retreat? *wink*

2)  I don’t yet have a sense of this being an Urban Fantasy.  What makes it UF rather than just Paranormal Romance?

3)  I need a sense of how your vampires, werewolves, and humans are different than all the other books with these three character types.

For example:  Vampires decimated the human population, killing off 75% of the world’s population before the Werewolves were able to gain the upper hand.  Living with an uneasy alliance, humans now depend on Werewolves to stay alive, even though they view Werewolves as fearsome and unpredictable since they are beyond reason during a full moon and apt to kill those they protect.

I think once you get these three elements in place you’ll have a great query!

Louisiana Moon is a standalone novel but has series potential. I’m the group leader for The Preternaturals on Savvy Authors and a member of RWA, OKRWA, FF&P, and several online groups.

Thank you very much for your time.

Sincerely,

Lani Rhea

Plan to Go from Query to Pitch

At this point, I need more details!  So, Lani, send me an email!
Wednesday
Jun082011

Pitch *THIS* Not *THAT* – Step #2 in Creating a Killer Query & Pitch (part 4 – Internet Millionaire’s Copilot)

This post is part of the Savvy Author Pitch Mentoring Week that starts HERE.

Follow along as Leslie replies to my comments on her query, which is how we correct the query/pitch focus to “this, not that.”

And finally… we plan her Pitch!

Query for Internet Millionaire’s Copilot by Leslie Dow

Hello to Leslie!  Welcome to the workshop. :)  I’m going to dig right in.  You know how it work!  Send me an email. :)   Here goes.

Dear {insert agent/editor name},

ORIGINAL QUERY: Pilot, Rebecca Jones, ex-heiress and ex-socialite spends her life avoiding responsibility ‘cause that’s what freedom’s all about. She’s sitting on her butt in the Mozambique airport adding ex-African Relief pilot to her resume when her uncle, sidelined by heart problems, needs help running his executive jet charter business.

Expectation:  This is a story about a woman who lives big and has a lot of “lives” in her past.  The heart problems kind of come out of nowhere.  I think there’s some missing information, such as, “sitting on her butt in the Mozambique airport waiting for a flight back to the US, when she gets an emergency call.  Her uncle has had a heart attack and needs her to stay and run his jet charter business.”

Is that close?

Leslie—> Yes, pretty close. She wasn't sure where she was going next, just sitting, trying to decided where she screwed up and what to do next— and this is backstory. The first scene is her first flight with her uncle’s air charter where she meets the hero. This line is pretty much where she is emotionally and some background about her that sets up the rest.

 

I assume this is the opening scene.  Sounds great!

Rebecca’s got her hands full with the executive charter business. Her uncle crankily refuses to stay down and get well, her mother insists on a reconciliation and the jet charter’s biggest client, Nick Miller, is the kind of man who triggers every bad-girl impulse she has. For the first time in Rebecca’s life the bad boy claims to love her. She's not stupid, she knows this game, a mercenary doesn’t have to wear camo to fight, and Rebecca’s never won any of those battles. Besides, love and freedom just don’t mix.

Story expectation:  This is a story about how she runs the charter service and a whole bunch of stuff crowds her days, all equally important.

Leslie—>Yes, the romance is set off against the background of her troubles with her Uncle, running a charter service and how to deal with her mother and the issues from her past that are inherent in any interactions with her mother, things like being disinherited, having run away as a teen, and changed her identity.

Nick is the love interest, and he turns her into a bad girl.

Leslie—>Yes, Nick is the love interest. He does not turn her into a bad girl, she already is one. Bad as in having turned her back on her mother, and run with a rough crowd in Africa. Inside she’s not bad at all, only a little lost and very much afraid.

They’re bad together. ;)  The analogy to a mercenary, camo, and battle kinda loses me.

Leslie--> Yeah, I can see now how only someone who read the book would get that! LOL. When flying relief in Africa she had short-lived affairs with the mercenary-types who would fly along with the relief runs. She’s attracted to dangerous men—Nick looks like them and has the same sense of personal power and confidence as the merc’s. However, I am not sure it’s relevant in the query, but it is a big part of her attraction to him—he’s like all those dangerous men she knew, loved, and who hurt her.

And basically she wants to be free.

Leslie—>Yes, she wants to be free, freedom has defined her and motivated her since she ran away at the age of 16. It’s why she flies. However, freedom for her is just another way of saying that she won’t deal with life. It’s only when her uncle, the only family that has ever cared about her needs her that she cannot refuse to come back to the states where she must face everything she ran from (mostly her mother but her past as well). It’s also what she shares with Nick, he wants desperately to be free and it is one of the attractions he has to her. He imagines her life in Africa as free and meaningful while he deal with a business that has settled into routine and now is failing.….hmmm *that* never made it I the query either! Sigh.

Nick’s never met a woman like the edgy pilot with the soft chocolate eyes. Why did he have to meet her now? Nick’s business is failing but he’s got a plan. It’s executing well, right up to the point where he learns the target is actually controlled by his new love's mother. Nick learns Mom’s made a few mistakes, the kind the SEC might be intrigued by. When Rebecca reluctantly agrees to step up, accept her inheritance, and the responsibility for the family business she learns that her new love is her family’s biggest threat. He swears he never knew but Rebecca’s seen too much to believe in coincidences.

Expectation:  This is a story about a man who meets a great woman and wishes he hadn’t met her now because his business is failing.  He’s going to be poor, and she won’t like him.  Or maybe he’s just too busy and has no time for her.

Leslie—> Exactly. He is a man who never had time for any women. They were simply not important to him and he’s gone to great lengths to keep them away. He’s also completely consumed with saving this company. It’s a huge responsibility that he is tiring of. He would like nothing more than to have the freedom she personifies. That’s his initial attraction to her but it becomes more meaningful.

  His focus is on a new business plan.  It sounds like he does intel on Rebecca’s Mom and is doing some sort of blackmail to get what he wants, but he didn’t know Rebecca and Mom were related???

Leslie—> Yes Rebecca has changed her identity and there is no connection between her Uncle and his sister anymore either. It’s been years since she’s seen Mom and Nick does not know that the company he’s targeted has anything to do with either Rebecca or her Uncle. Rebecca does not know that Nick has targeted her mother’s company. There was no reason to discuss anything business between them. Rebecca is ‘outed’ when Nick’s business associate makes the connection that Rebecca is a girl she knew in school. The associate is able to make this connection because of a stupid (aka risky) thing that Rebecca did during flight. Then it all comes together.

Then all of a sudden Rebecca has an inheritance.

Leslie—> She was disinherited. I guess the ex-heiress comment in the first  line does not quite convey this because you are not the first person to comment on this. LOL. Maybe if I say disinherited? Anyway, her mother’s antics are what precipitate Rebecca getting her un-disinherited. Mom’s been playing fast and loose with company assets and did not adhere to the terms of Rebecca's dad’s will, which actually did give her an inheritance based on Rebecca meeting a set of objective criteria, and at her mother’s discretion. Nick discovers her mother’s been manipulating stock that actually belongs to Rebecca. Rebecca’s mom did this to take the company private and avoid Nick’s takeover attempt. I’ve struggled with this because it’s awful complicated to be summarized in a query but it’s pivotal to the plot.  The other thing that confuses my CPs is that her uncle’s company has nothing at all to do with her mother’s, two different things.

I think I am lost in the details here and don’t have a good grasp of what I really important to have in the query. GAH!

Did the uncle die?

Leslie—> Nope, he gets better, the old coot. Hmm, I *could* have him die…..The book is complete but, hey, I love me a good revision.

Oh, so maybe the story is really about how she’s tricked into falling in love?  He lies to her and says he never knew, but he did because he knew about the SEC.  Rebecca is on to him.

Leslie—>He’s not lied to her, ever. He, once, uses the info about her mom to get Rebecca to meet him for coffee by implying he has information that would put her mom at risk— which he does. He *could* use this information to force her mother to agree to the terms of the deal but he won’t because he’s a good guy who loves Rebecca. It’s one of the things that convinces her that he really loves her. Instead, he turns over his personal assets to save the company and walks away telling himself that this is the freedom he’s always craved but stupidly not realizing he will never be happy without her.

Or maybe he’s in town to manipulate the Mom, meets Rebecca, then realizes the relationship….

How did I do?

Nick will to do anything to save his company except hurt Rebecca. He’ll hand over everything he has and walk away. Rebecca's finally met a man she might trust. Now, she must convince him that freedom doesn't always mean running away before she loses him forever.

Expectation:  Is this a paragraph about how the story ends?  If so, you really don’t need it in your query.  However, I think I didn’t get the story right.  I thought she wanted to be free, but apparently he was the one who wanted to be free, right?

Leslie—> Right. They both want to be free but at the end discover that freedom is not possible if you are running away, you must reconcile with your past to move forward. Essentially, they show each other that.

Internet Millionaire’s Copilot is a 50,000 word category-length romance with a powerful but vulnerable hero, international jet-set elements, and a secret identity.

Expectation:  I didn’t get anything about international jet-set elements or a secret identity at all.  She’s a jet pilot, I think.   And he’s a business man.  Jet-set = “an international social group of wealthy people.” I didn’t see the social or the parties.  And someone has a secret identity?  That sounds like a different book than what I just read about.

Leslie—>The jet set is her past, and two of the trips in the book are to jet-set locations. She’s a private jet pilot, I guess I figured that made it jet set. It’s her secret identity that sets off the rift between them. He does not know she is a disinherited heir to the company he needs to acquire to save his. When he discovers it, their romance is in trouble.

Sorry to be so confused.  But you can easily close the gaps and tell me what’s really going on. :)

Leslie—>LOL! I’m sorry I confused you! It’s my job to convey what’s in my book, not make you have to ferret it out! 8)

I am published in short fiction and write a regular industry column at SsavvyAuthors.Com. I edit the Silicon Valley’s RAW chapter’s newsletter and am the web mistress for Wrap's Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter.

If you’re published in short fiction, you should give the pub info!  It’s a great credit.

Leslie-->> will do! Thanks!

Diane again: Awesome answers!  And this: He does not know she is a disinherited heir to the company he needs to acquire to save his. When he discovers it, their romance is in trouble.

See that summary?  That should be one of the key lines in your query!  (Genius how all these questions actually generate a query, eh?) 

Also, I asked Leslie for some more information about her book in order to determine what was backstory and where the story actually started.  When answering, she also provided this character summary, which has some key info:

Nicholas Miller (35), internet millionaire and tech genius, is a man who has it all except the freedom to do what he wants. When he learns the company is overstretched and may fail, he is secretly elated at the thought of being free of it. If he were the only one hurt, he’d walk away tomorrow. Now, facing the loss of his company and assets, his only concern is saving employee's jobs. He’s willing to sacrifice his freedom and integrity to do so.

Camille Rebecca Jones (28), ex-heiress, ex-socialite, and ex-African Relief pilot, has spent the majority of her adult life running while telling herself this is freedom. Estranged from her controlling mother and disinherited by her father’s will, at sixteen she ran away from boarding school to live with her Uncle who taught her to fly in his air charter business, Samuels Air. As an adult she takes a job flying relief supplies into Africa, wanting to give back and leave her privileged life behind, but instead is swept up in a series of affairs with dangerous men. When her Uncle is partially grounded by an illness she returns home to help him run Samuels Air. Her mother, kept at a distance for years, now wants back in her life bringing with her the past that Rebecca left and the inheritance she lost.

Best Regards,

Leslie A. Dow 
http://www.leslieadow.com

Plan to Go from Query to Pitch

Okay, Leslie, let’s see how we might come up with a short pitch. 

  • At it’s heart, your book seems to be about a woman who ran away from her rich family and its money at the age of 16, changed her name, and became a African relief pilot, with a string of relationships with dangerous men.
  • Now, she’s returned to help the uncle who originally taught her to fly to run his air charter business after his heart attack.   Right off the bat, she’s attracted to his biggest client, a Internet millionaire with that same dangerous vibe.
  • Helping her uncle means  Rebecca is exposed to her rich family and all its dysfunctions.  She doesn’t want anything to do with rich people and wants her freedom.  Nicholas is rich.

But this is sounding really mechanical.  

Maybe something like: When she was only 16, pilot, Rebecca Jones ran away from the world of socialites, uber-wealth, a staggering inheritance, and especially her mother . 

Ten years later, she’s back from her latest gig as an African-relief pilot and a string of “bad boy” men—her new motto “no more bad boys!”-- to help the beloved uncle who took her in at 16 and taught her how to fly. 

Suddenly back in the thick of family, she’s living her personal nightmare.  And her uncle’s biggest air charter client?  Yes, an Internet millionaire bad-boy.  Sparks fly. What’s worse than bad-boys?  Rich bad-boys. 

They have one thing in common (besides *that*).  They’ve both sacrificed personal freedom to do right by others.  He has to save his failing company.  She has to keep her uncle’s jet charter service afloat while he recovers from a heart attack.  And no matter what, she’s not going to repeat any of her past mistakes.

I can’t tell if I represented your story’s conflict correctly, but this type of approach might work for you.

For a short pitch, you’d probably want to leave off this last paragraph.  What do you think?  Okay, your turn!

Wednesday
Jun082011

Pitch *THIS* Not *THAT* – Step #2 in Creating a Killer Query & Pitch (part 3 – Redesigning Trista)

This post is part of the Savvy Author Pitch Mentoring Week that starts HERE.

Follow along as Victoria replies (in dark blue) to my comments on her query, which is how we correct the query/pitch focus to “this, not that.” 

And finally… we plan her Pitch!

Query for Rising Currents: Redesigning Trista by Victoria Torres

 

ORIGINAL QUERY: Widowed socialite Trista McCleod needs a change. 

 Diane: This is very clear (good), but fairly generic.  Anyway, easy to understand is a plus.

ORIGINAL QUERY: Becoming Newport Barbie to please her husband had been an exciting game right up until she discovered Michael preferred the doll to the woman. 

Okay, I have my own set of Laws when it comes to pitching, and your query hits  upon one of my favorite!

Diane's Law of Linguistic Spaghetti: In an attempt to combine all your story's key details into a short pitch, at some point you'll end up with a single sentence. Unfortunately that single sentence (aka "spaghetti noodle") will go on forever, linked by conjunctions and modified with clauses and phrases and the occasional meatball.

Basically, most of your sentences, in an effort to be creative, are kind of tangled up.   I’m going to use this sentence to show you what I’m talking about, okay?  

 Becoming Newport Barbie…

 (Oh, it’s a new Barbie called Becoming Newport!)

…to please her husband…

(Wait, have to re-read, okay, so to please her husband, she became a Newport Barbie.)

…had become an exciting game…

(So “to please her husband” had become “an exciting game,” wait…. Re-read, okay, so becoming the Barbie was a game that she did for her husband who has now died.  Got it.)

…right up until she discovered Michael preferred the doll to the woman…

(Okay, is Michael the husband?  Because he’s dead, and he prefers the doll, wait is there a real doll?  No, no, he prefers the facade…. Okay, re-read…. A widow (with no name) became the woman she thought her husband wanted, a Newport Barbie, only to find out he preferred her Barbie persona to the real her!  Eureka.)

Victoria: I was trying to say that she made herself into a Barbie Persona in order to please her husband.  At first it had been a fun game for both of them until she realized he wanted the persona more than the real woman.

ORIGINAL QUERY: Is it too much to ask to find a lover who wants the real woman this time around? Although she loves her position on the McCleod Foundation board, she plans to quietly leave the cloying environment.  Unfortunately, her guilt over her craving for Michael’s longtime friend causes her to botch it the way only the truly desperate can.  Now with her escape route ruined and her desire revealed, she’s got to move quickly.

Expectation:  This is a story about a woman who pretends to be a Newport Barbie, and she’s busting out.  And for some reason, guilt has led her to ruin something to do with leaving a job she doesn’t want any more.  And this is an escape route?  Unless this is the mob and you can’t leave the family Foundation, I’m a bit lost on why she can’t say, “Hey, guys, it’s been nice, and I’m resigning.”  Am I close?

I’m a bit concerned about word count for the query.  I obviously left out important pieces of information in order to try to be brief but still show my voice.  In the above paragraph, what I need to get across is that she cannot leave the foundation without risking the jobs of her friends who have become like her family in the years she’s lived there.  The Foundation never liked her and she had to work like crazy, using the whole Barbie persona to win them over.  If they find out she’s leaving the cottage house on the grounds, they will try to move in and revamp the whole thing removing her friends and trying to use it for their own purposes.  One of the main reasons she wants to leave is to find a relationship with someone who really knows her.  Danny could be that person but because she feels guilty over wanting him while she was still married, she wants to leave.

ORIGINAL QUERY: As maintenance supervisor of the McCleod grounds, Daniel Wilson is fiercely protective of his work and even more so of the McCleod family.  So how in the hell did he not notice Trista was twisting herself into the princess mold while running herself into the ground?  And when did he become part of the reason why Trista wants to leave her home?  Danny’s shock over Trista’s feelings doesn’t keep him from jumping into bed with her even though just two seconds ago he’d considered her a respected friend.  Perhaps he should have learned from his social-climbing ex-wife not to dive in so quickly.

Expectation: Daniel Wilson is the love interest and he’s fiercely protective of the water heaters and plumbing and all things maintenance-y.  He didn’t notice a whole lot about Trista, and now he does.  And she wants to leave, in part, because of him, but he jumps in bed with her which he now he regrets because she’s just like his social-climbing ex-wife and he should’ve learned better.  (Have to breathe after that!)

Is this right?  Maybe it’s a story about a woman wanting to leave and a guy just noticing her and wanting her to stay? 

I didn’t mean to show that Danny regretted being with Trista in this paragraph.  I just meant to say that he should have thought before leaping in too quickly.

ORIGINAL QUERY: The passion and desperation of their stolen moments together is everything Trista dreamt of and not exactly what Danny signed up for.  Her little quiet sneak away plan becomes a huge project drawing Danny deep into every aspect of her life, but apparently not deep enough for her to stop the cycle of secrets and hiding.  Her little plastic mask is cracking and Trista needs to find a way to smother Newport Barbie before she alienates her friends and the one man who can make her dream a reality.

Expectation: This is a story about two people sneaking around having an affair, with her keeping him secret.  And she’s having a hard time keeping up her Newport Barbie mask.  And apparently she’s doing something (being rude?) so that she’s alienating her friends and Daniel.  Am I close?

The Newport Barbie mask is a tool she’s using until she can get a plan in place for the cottage house she is vacating.

 Trista's presence on the McCleod House grounds gives her the ability to run the property as she sees fit.  Once she leaves, the foundation will try to change everything including replace the staff out of spite.  

THe renovation would allow her to expand the Children's Outreach section of the Foundation and set her friends up to keep their jobs.

 She is alienating Danny because she’s forcing him to hide not only from the Foundation board members but from their mutual friends.  He’s feeling like she’s just using him as a contractor for the job and doesn’t really care about him.  She wants to just get through the board meeting with the façade intact so then they can walk into the sunset together. 

 

ORIGINAL QUERY: I am seeking representation for REDESIGNING TRISTA, a 100,000-word contemporary single title romance.  I am a member of Romance Writers of America, Savvy Authors, and Romance Divas.

Okay, send me your comments, Sweetie, and let me know where I’m off and where I’ve understood your story correctly!  We’ll get this.  So no worries, okay?

Now that I’m trying to explain this to you, I feel like an imbecile.  In my mind, I know exactly what I’m trying to do.  I even feel like my story explains all of this.  Now, trying to describe it to you, it seems like my story not only does not make sense, it also has a weak plot and weak characters!

I think I need to start over because I’m giving you backstory on Trista instead of focusing on why she cannot just walk away from her life and start again.  She’s there because she loves her friends and wants to set up a safety net by renovating the property to protect their jobs before she leaves.  She’s leaving because she knows she cannot find a new life while she’s living on the property that ties her to her old one.  Well holy cow, I think that last sentence there might be a start! TEE HEE

Not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel but I am realizing the light is there!

Thank you for doing this.  I knew I needed it and I’m so glad to have your assistance.  I’m frustrated, but I’m also thrilled because I now know that the most important thing is getting the expectation right so I know that if I’m being rejected or accepted it is for the right reasons! 

From Query to Pitch – The Plan

Okay, so how do you create a short pitch? Here’s what seems like the core of your story to me.

* Widow made herself into the perfect Newport Barbie to please her husband, the neighbors, and the Foundation she works for.

* Now she’s busting out.  But before she leaves she has to make sure all her friends’ jobs are secure at the Foundation/cottage.  To do this requires finishing a renovation that’s underway, otherwise, the contentious Foundation will change the plans and fire her friends.

* Meanwhile, her husband’s sexy, long-time friend may actually like her for herself, not the Barbie she’s become.  As sparks fly, she insists they keep their relationship a secret, because his job is at stake too.  The more she tries to get rid of her Barbie mask, the more she ends up pretending to be someone other than a woman in love.

What do you think, Victoria?  Does this sound like the core of your story?

Tuesday
Jun072011

Pitch *THIS* Not *THAT* – Step #2 in Creating a Killer Query & Pitch (part 2 – No Fragile Heart)

This post is part of Savvy Author week here at Pitch U that starts HERE.

What is your storyPreviously this week, I read her query letter and talked through how her story came across to me. 

Now you get a chance to read her responses. (We had several rounds back and forth!) I call this a course correction.  Instead of describing her story as “this,” she’s telling me it’s more of “that.”

Finally, I’ll help her put a plan together to move from Query Letter to Pitch.

Query for No Fragile Heart by Kat Latham


Dear Agent/Editor,

ORIGINAL QUERY: [Something personal about why I want to work with them] I would love for you to represent/publish NO FRAGILE HEART, my 90,000-word contemporary romance with elements of suspense.

Hi, Savvy Kat!  It’s lovely to meet you.  We’re going to roll-up our sleeves and get started. 

I’ll start by giving you the expectations  and thoughts I have of your story as I read your query.  Send me your response to each of my comments in email.  Am I dead on?  Or am I way off in a ditch?  This is the key information that will help us nail your query and pitch later this week.

And I want to start off by saying this is a really solid query.  Very well written.  I’m going to “test” it against my expectations, and no doubt you’ll want to correct what I’m expecting.  But I want you to know that this is actually well done.  We’re just trying to see if it’s the best it can be.

Hi Diane! Thanks so much for your kind words about my query. I wasn’t sure how you wanted me to respond (other than by email), so I’m putting my comments in bold. It’s so useful to see what you expect from my story after reading my query! Some of your expectations are right on, but others aren’t, so I’ll clearly have some things to work on.

Perfect!

ORIGINAL QUERY: War correspondent Aidan Chilcott barely survived a suicide bomber’s blast in Iraq last year. Now back at work for his London-based newspaper, he’s dismayed to discover his editor has him covering feel-good stories until he proves he’s emotionally recovered. When an opportunity arises to visit a charity’s project for war-widows in Bosnia, he leaps at the chance. He may be expected to bring back puff pieces, but he’ll sniff out problems and show he’s ready to cover hard news again.

Expectation:  This is a story about a British battle-scarred reporter.  He probably has PTSD.  I get the sense of Lethal Weapon’s Sergeant Martin Riggs-- out of control, doesn’t know it, boss puts him on easy assignments, but he’s pissed that he can’t get back out there.

He gets an easy story in Bosnia, but he (by god) will find a hard-hitting story if it kills him.  He either already knows there are problems with this charity or he believes that all charities are corrupt. Or, he’ll ditch the assignment and go after other stuff in Bosnia without telling them.  He’ll show them!

This doesn’t really sound like my Aidan. For one thing, he’s American—Californian—which I didn’t put into my query because I wasn’t sure how relevant it was. Plus, I thought ‘American war correspondent…’ could make it sound like he only covers American wars. His paper is based in London, but he’s been based in Iraq and Afghanistan for years. He doesn’t know there are problems with this charity, but every organization has its issues (he wouldn’t believe all charities are corrupt; he’s more nuanced than that). Of course, he doesn’t expect this charity’s issues to be as big as the ones he discovers.

I think just remove the London reference, and a US publisher/agent will assume US.  And anyone who watches CNN will get that there’s news in the entire world. J  Well, I hope.

             Cool. That’s an easy fix!

ORIGINAL QUERY: As a press officer for International Disaster and Emergency Aid (IDEA)—a humanitarian charity that helps vulnerable women prepare for and recover from disasters—Emma Taylor has dealt with hundreds of difficult journalists. This is her first time accompanying one on a week-long overseas project visit, but she’s ready for the challenge of making sure Aidan shows the charity in a positive light.

Expectation: Okay, Emma is the love interest.  This is Riggs’ (I mean Chilcott!) story.  She’s on to him.  She believes in her mission and she won’t let a difficult reporter stop her from doing her good works.  She expects a fight.

This is pretty much right. She doesn’t expect a fight right away, but she quickly figures out Aidan has ulterior motives for being there and she has to find ways of protecting the charity’s reputation. Like Aidan, though, the problems are much bigger than she expected.

Okay, I think what’s key is stressing how much she believes in the work, and how she’s looked into the eyes of these women.  She’s not going to let any politics or news story interfere with helping Bosnian women.

             Good—I think I can do that by amending the last sentence, making it both about showing the charity in a positive light and about telling the women’s survival stories. In my novel, it’s about both things for Emma. She has a very important job raising the charity’s profile (i.e. getting journalists like Aidan to write stories) so they can fund their work. Damaging their reputation means losing donations, so programs would have to be cut.

ORIGINAL QUERY: From the start, though, the newshound proves nearly impossible to control. Not only does his easy flirtation make her desperate to shuck the professional image she’s adopted in her four years of sobriety, but when Aidan discovers teenage girls are being groomed and trafficked to western Europe by the charity’s wealthiest benefactor, he’s determined to expose the story—even if doing so costs Emma her job and costs him any chance of a future with her.

Expectation:  Chilcott crashes around kinda like a bull in a china shop because he’s pissed and looking for a story.  But he’ll also be flirting, which is kinda hard to put together.  Emma is 4 –years sober (very interesting hook, because it gives her some life experience and hardship similar, in a way, to Aiden’s). 

As far as being a bull in a china shop, Aidan’s a successful newspaper journalist so he gets stories through charm and building trust, not through rampaging. Does that make the flirtation an easier fit?

I love this!  Makes me like him much more.  This is something you want to get across in the query, otherwise he comes across as an immature guy who’s grumpy because he’s not getting the good stories any more.  And that’s not it.  He does important work that truly matters.  He’s a professional.  He has a unique skillset that allows him to build trust and get stories that change history and make a difference.  Yes?

Yes! This is really good to know—that you like him more for this. I’ll figure out a way to get that across.

And suddenly we have white slave/child trafficking.  Okay…  And for some reason Aiden is going to expose this story (as opposed to go to police or UN authorities or some Federal agency where the charity is incorporated or any nation/agency who is actually against human trafficking… probably need to help us understand this better!). 

Aidan will expose the story because that’s what he does. He also ends up working with the authorities, but not before having to decide whether to write the story.

This sounds like the story is more important to him than the children being sold as slaves.  Is this true?  You do need to be true to what you’ve written.

It’s not that the story is more important but that that’s his way of putting a stop to it. Realistically, going to the authorities could take forever to put a stop to something like this. They may even already know but have reasons (like corruption) for not doing anything. Exposing the crime in an international paper makes it much more difficult for the authorities to do nothing.

In my story, though, the proverbial poop hits the fan before Aidan’s story is published, and the authorities become involved in between him writing it and it being published.

The main conflict for the book seems to be that he’s investigating this ugly, horrible crime… and she doesn’t want him to because it will cost her job???  Also, this is Aiden’s book primarily.

Emma’s unaware of the crime until it’s too late. She knows something’s wrong, but Aidan hides key evidence from her. The main conflict is that he’s looking for something, anything he can write a story about, but that means screwing over Emma, the first woman he’s cared for in a long time. Emma’s job is to make sure matters are handled internally if possible, and to minimize damage to the charity’s reputation. When she finds out the extent of the problem, she definitely wants the proper authorities involved to protect the women the charity works with. Her main conflict is that Aidan tempts her. She starts to fall in love and she wants to trust him, something that could either lead to an exciting relationship or heartbreak and a compromised career.

How does writing the story mean screwing over Emma? Does he look at it this way?  Or is the problem that the charity will be damaged because of the link to the bad guy, and he can’t care about that (because that’s nothing compared to such a huge crime).  Seriously, we’re talking a horrendous crime vs. some bad press, right? Seems like no contest. 

Maybe it’s more accurate to say he wants to write the story—both to expose what’s happening and to get his career back on track (hey, he’s no saint), but it means a very real chance that the charity will lose its funding and stop being able to help all the women in its other life-changing programs. Emma, on the other hand, would like the organization to deal with the matter privately and through the authorities because then the charity will be able to continue all its other programs. So there’s more at risk than Emma’s job/pride or the charity’s reputation.

And as for Emma, I suspect  her main conflict is not being tempted.  (I think her main conflict initially is having a reporter get in the way of doing powerful and good work. But, the temptation is the piece that throws her off balance, yes?  Yes, this is exactly right.

The reason I clarify this is to understand your story better.  And in writing a query it’s really important to represent conflict correctly.  If it’s true that her main conflict is attraction to a guy, then the reader will weigh that against his conflict (which I suspect is uncovering enough evidence to write a story AND go to the police before he’s pulled off the story because his bosses think he has PDSD….  Am I close?)

It’s a fascinating story.  Very fresh.  I don’t want you to feel that I’m not on board.  I’m just asking questions so you can get a YES when you send your query.

The story will unfold with scenes of him investigating and alternately flirting and trying to hide his investigation. They’ll probably have a lot of arguments.  She’ll be single-minded in helping the Bosnian women, and we’ll see her at work.

Pretty much, though he doesn’t really try to hide his investigation. He can really only get access to people the charity works with through Emma, and at first he doesn’t know what he’s looking for; he just wants a story. Emma doesn’t see that as a big threat at first because she doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with the program.

So, really, he hopes he can get a story, but when he starts finding clues (like…?), it’s serious business.  But he can’t just start telling Emma about the initial clues, because she’s a believer.  And maybe he’s finding clues because of his experience and knowing what to look for.  But anyone else wouldn’t really pay attention????

Anyone else would write the happy stories that were expected of them. He asks awkward questions and discovers there are awkward answers. Since Emma accompanies him on interviews, she realizes there’s something going on. She tells her office and they ask her to investigate further, to see if there are problems they didn’t know about. Aidan doesn’t tell her when he finally figures out what’s going on because they’re having romantic issues and he wants to decide what to do without his lust for her confusing him. Then all hell breaks loose and the Bosnian mobster sends his goons to attack them.

If I were going to read pages, I would expect the story to open in Aiden’s POV getting this assignment, then a scene in Emma’s POV, something to do with the charity and this specific trip, maybe? Yep, that’s exactly how it opens! Or, maybe they’re both in the first scene, meeting for the first time.  Am I close? You were exactly right the first time!

Perfect!

ORIGINAL QUERY: NO FRAGILE HEART is the first in a planned three-book series featuring women who work for a humanitarian charity. As the web editor for an international aid organization, I spend my days writing stories about real-life heroism and my evenings writing about heart-throbbing fictional heroes.

I LOVE your very fresh series.  Kudos to you.  And your insider’s view is a real plus. Thanks!

ORIGINAL QUERY: I hope to share Aidan and Emma’s story with you.

Great closing line, especially for the Romance genre.

Kind regards,
Kat Latham  

From Query to Pitch – The Plan

Okay, Kat, let’s talk how to move from your Query to your Pitch.  You’ve done some great work in pinpointing how you want your story to come across.

You have this wonderfully fresh series featuring women who work for a humanitarian charity.  Wow.  This is fresh and meaningful, so you should think about leading or ending with this.

Your story seems to center around a reporter doing meaningful work that no one else can do (without someone bringing these stories, things don’t change) and a press officer who is championing Bosnian War Widows and her job is getting journalists and politicians and the world to not screw up doing the right thing. 

It’s not that you want to say this exactly in this way, but you do want leave the agent or editor (or reader) with the understanding that these people can change the world.  And if there’s conflict, it’s because they believe in what they’re doing and will never stop doing what’s right. :) 

So you might try saying…

  • Something about who he is and his real assignment plus his secret-I-bet-I-can-turn-this-puff-piece-into-something-meaningful-assignment.
  • Something about who she is and her goal (corral the reporter-man), and not letting anyone mess with that.
  • But sparks fly.  And then he finds a real story.  A story that he has to pursue to save the girls and stop the charities biggest donor.  A story that will be such bad press for the charity that it might never recover.

What do you think?  Is this getting to the heart of your story?

Tuesday
Jun072011

Pitch *THIS* Not *THAT* – Step #2 in Creating a Killer Query & Pitch (part 1 – Fire & Ice)

In Step #1 I gave each author my “expectations” of their story based on the various details in their query letter.

Step #2 is what I call course correction, because you’re about to read their replies to my expectations.  Then we adjust the query letter focus to match the real story.  At the end of each post, I’ll suggest a plan for moving from Query to Pitch creation.

It’s amazing what happens in this step, because often you find out the story being written is much, much cooler than what was implied in the Query.  Just loooooove when that happens! 

Reminder: This is Savvy Author week here at Pitch U, where we are helping 6 winners develop accurate pitches for their books… and then practice these pitches by making pitch videos.

Priceless!

As I post the exchange between what I thought and what the author really meant, you’ll see where I was way off. 

For them, this is priceless information. They won’t spend time wondering why their query was rejected. Of if pages are requested, they won’t bang their heads on their keyboards because the agent or editor sends a rejections saying, “This wasn’t what I’d hoped for.” 

Query for Fire & Ice by Michele Barrow-Belisle

 

And here are my responses/ clarifications to your expectations (most of which were correct or very close,  so YAY!)

After a terrify encounter with a dark faerie when she young, 17 year old Lorelei Alundra can see when people are in pain, heal them with just one touch and sing with the voice of a diva. . . sometimes.

Expectation:  This is a story about a girl (senior in high school?), who has “super powers” that can’t be counted on! 

Yes! Yay, I got one right!

On the night of her vocal competition in front of a Julliard talent scout, Lorelei can only hope this is one of those times. But the competition is cut short when her mother succumbs to a fatal illness and neither doctors nor Lorelei can cure her. 

Expectation: It’s Lorelei’s dream to get into Julliard, but her mother dies (succumbs to a fatal illness), but the doctors can’t cure… death?  (I know from previous discussions that this isn’t true.  She actually goes into a coma.  So there’s a gap here between query and manuscript.)

How accurate do I need to be here? I'm almost inclined to say, close enough ...because it's not a crucial element, but it's actually Lorelei's famous mother's dream that Lorelei go to Julliard. Lorelei is more concerned/stressed out by her unreliable gift and their bizarre way she received it. 

Yes to mom in coma, no to death. 

She turns to Adrius, the new guy from her art class. Dark. Tortured. And mesmerizing. Despite being a little freaked out that he knows more about her than any stranger should, she accepts his offer to help find a rare medicinal herb that will save her mother’s life.

Expectation:  Lorelei is in high school, and turns out there’s a guy in art class, who for some reason she turns to for medical advice.  No, wait, he makes an offer…..

Maybe "leans on" is a better than "turns to"

She follows him from the forest behind their school . . . into another realm— where faeries, witches and elves carry on centuries of war. A war prophecy predicts she will end, in this world of her long absent father.

Expectation: We’ve left the ordinary world, similar to Wizard of Oz in a way.  Oh, didn’t know her father was absent.  Does her mother know?  ;)  I know from previous discussions that her father disappeared a long time ago, but that info is not in this query.

Whoops, I seem to have lost the part near the beginning that alludes to it being just Lorelei & her Mom. But, the fact that it's her father's world doesn't come out til later in the book. She first discovers she's the daughter of a faerie king and then in the black moment, it's discovered that her mother is a witch and it's a belief in their world that the offspring of a witch and a winter faerie can only be evil. 

As Lorelei is drawn deeper into his world of secrets and shadows she must choose between Adrius the beautiful elven prince she loves, who is fighting a curse that could kill her.  And Zanthiel the compelling dark, winter faerie from her past. Among the insurmountable obstacles Lorelei must survive is Venus, his wicked witch ex-girlfriend— witch being completely literal. But she’s driven by more than love, by something even she doesn’t understand: her blood. Her own evil blood.

Expectation:  You need to check out Christie Craig’s new YA series under the name c. c. hunter. ( I wrote an article about how it was pitched to her, and what she then came up with, and other good craft stuff. ) But there is a similarity between  your book and hers that will help you describe your book (and might even work as a comparison).  By the way, her book is already in it’s 4th printing and another is scheduled. 

WOW, this was awesome! I so want to read her book. And it gives me tickle of excitement that there's hope for my story!

Your story has her torn between two boys, trying to figure out this world and her skills, and trying to fulfill a prophesy, although that may be secondary as the boys seem more important here. I note that the mother seems to be forgotten about.  Saving her doesn’t seem to be the goal any more. 

Yes, to an extent... her relationship with Adrius does become forefront, but it's because she travels with him while fulfilling the prophesy...and the whole reason for fulfilling the prophecy is that she's trapped and can't return home to save her mother until she has.  It’s about her being lost in this world and unable to find her way out? Not so much lost, as trapped while trying to discover the magical powers she's been told she has, needed to stop the ice witch and end the war, thus fulfilling the prophecy and freeing her to return to her mother to cure her. Of course, once she accesses her powers she

This last paragraph makes me think that book’s focus turns, and the story is about her choosing between two boys, and the witch-of-an-ex of some guy named Venus causes problems.
 

Uhm...well no. The story doesn't really turn, it retains the same trajectory. And Venus is an ex-girlfriend (and of the race of witches) of both Adrius and Zanthiel (she's the daughter of the ice witch Lorelie defeats to end the war) who wants revenge and wants Adrius back....she's just another complication in their relationship, but is featured more in book 2. 


Also, much of this paragraph is full of general and vague concepts, such as “secrets and shadows, “a curse that could kill her,” “among the insurmountable obstacles” “driven by more than love, by something even she doesn’t understand."  You have killer details in your book.  But they’re not
necessarily coming through.

I know, ! Just gotta get them in there in a concise way. the curse is hard because it's a binding curse and everyone is like what's that? And so there doesn't seem to be any short explanation.


There is a lot of good writing here, of course!  And this query is better than most.  So don’t you dare bang your head on your laptop keyboard, okay?  I’m on your side, 110%.  

Only banged my head once. So there's progress.

In a world where trust brings pain and death, love becomes an act of unbelievable courage.

I usually don’t like summary lines like this, but I actually like this one a lot.  I think it’s the way it ends on courage, which implies ACTION. :) 

YAY!!

Fire and Ice is a 110,000 word YA fantasy romance. The idea for this story came to me while working on my non-fiction book for Search Press Publishing on sculpting fairies in polymer clay. Thank you very much for your time, I look forward to your reply.

It sounds like this book sold, so give us the title!

I think it's Sculpting Fairies in Polymer Clay. It's still in production so I'm not 100% sure yet. 

Things feel like they're getting close and closer!

*** Michele Embraces the article I recommended: “Pitching At Midnight: The Layers of Your Pitch

Hi Diane,

Wow, what a wonderful resource Christie Craig's pitch and your blog post were. Thank you! I immediately saw the similarities you spoke of and of course I'm dying to read her book now too!

I filled in my answers to the same 5 layers, as I think they apply to my book too:

1. Romance (two hot paranormal guys want her; Adrius the elven prince she’s in love with but there are obstacles to their relationship like a his family curse, the forbidden union of a half faerie and an elfkind and a wicked witch ex-girlfriend. And Zanthiel, who she shares a compelling connection to since he’s the faerie who gifted her with her abilities)

2. Paranormal (visit from a dark faerie in childhood, special healing gifts she can’t use in front of anyone and singing voice that is controlled by the faerie, follows Adrius into another realm of witches, elves, faeries & demons)

3. Teen Angst (her superhuman gifts and abilities make her feel like she doesn’t fit among the regular humans, left out of “normal teen things like dating, wants to feel special, labeled a freak by the “in crowd”, expectations placed on her to fulfill a prophecy she doesn't believe she can accomplish)

4. Parents/Family Relationships (her father disappeared when she was young, raised by loving Shamanic healer grandmother now deceased, typical strained teen relationship with her mother - a famous concert pianist always away on tour...when her mother falls into a coma Lorelei is determined to find a way to save her now that Gran isn’t alive to do it,  issues with trust in others and trusting herself, learns her family are not your average humans, but paranormal beings also)

5. Friends/Peers Relationships (whole new set of friends in the other realm only they’re not human, she needs to fit in, they’re counting on her to save the day, realization that she didn’t fit in her world because she wasn’t fully human and coming to terms with who and what she is, figuring out how to make her relationship with Adrius work against all the rising odds)

************

Revised-Focus Query for Fire & Ice

Michele has been a regular at Pitch U for several months, and we’ve had the pleasure of working together previously on this story.  So she’s all over revisions! 

Here’s her current revision.  It’s still fairly wordy, and there’s some confusion in the first paragraph, but that’s okay for now.  Really.  It’s okay!  The goal is to try different approaches and see what works.  And there’s a lot that works here. :)  Congrats to Michele!

Dear AGENT/ EDITOR,

<Intro and final paragraphs omitted due to space.>

Since Lorelei Alundra’s father disappeared when she was four, it's just been her and her mother. Or to be more truthful, it's been her and her classically-trained- world-renowned –concert-pianist Mother. The dream of going to Julliard came from her mother, implanted in the womb— but for Lorelei, any future singing career died the day a dark faerie granted her two gifts. And what did she get?  Something cool like X-ray vision? Super strength?  Telekinesis?  No... she got the ability to heal wounds with a touch. Perfect for a girl who hates blood.  And a the ability to sing with a voice surpassing every American Idol finalist... but only sometimes.

Her senior year has just started and so have the auditions, where she might or might not be able to sing. Stupid faerie.  Plus the vocal competition her mother coerced her into after arranging for a Julliard scout to attend, is looming like a guillotine over her head. The only bright spot is the new boy who doesn't seem to notice that she doesn't fit in.  Adrius is dark, tortured and mesmerizing— and totally into her. When he offers to be her date to the competition how could she say no, fickle faerie muse or not.

But their perfect night is cut short when her mother is hospitalized in a coma which neither doctors nor Lorelei's gift can heal. Adrius claims to know where to find a rare medicinal herb and if she agrees to go with him, she'll be able to keep her mother alive.

Without a second thought she follows him through the forest— and into the dark faerie’s world where witches, fey and elves are on the brink of war. A war that prophecy predicts she is supposed to prevent with magic she doesn’t possess, in a realm that's home to her long absent father. And until it has been fulfilled, she’s trapped.

To navigate the treacherous Faery realm Lorelei must put her trust in either Zanthiel the compelling dark faerie from her past. Or Adrius the beautiful elven prince she loves, who is fighting a curse that endangers her more.  She can only count on one of them to protect her. But she’s driven by more than love, by something even she doesn’t understand— the evil stirring in her blood. And Lorelei must come to terms with who and what she is in order to save her mother, their world, and ultimately, her own soul…

In a realm where trust brings pain and death, love becomes an act of unbelievable courage.

*******************

From Query to Pitch – The Plan

Okay, here’s the challenge in creating a pitch: cut almost everything, yet still use specifics to create a short, compelling pitch. 

Sounds impossible, yet that won’t stop us from actually doing it. ;)

Michele, As I think of approaches, there are some key concepts that need to be communicated…

  • She’s a 17 and a senior.
  • She has 2 gifts that only work sometimes and were given by a dark faerie.
  • There’s a boy.
  • There’s a goal (save Mom).
  • There’s a challenge in the New World.

This section of the query is a wonderful encapsulation of the challenge/New World: “and into the dark faerie’s world where witches, fey and elves are on the brink of war. A war that prophecy predicts she is supposed to prevent with magic she doesn’t possess, in a realm that's home to her long absent father. And until it has been fulfilled, she’s trapped.”

If you add something about how if she doesn’t get back with the cure her Mom will die, I think you may have it.  But feel free to try out something completely different.

Here’s a different take of my own:

A high school senior’s sort-of-superpowers (singing and healing) can’t be counted on, because they where given to her at the age of 4 by a dark faerie, right after her father disappeared without a trace. 

When her mother goes into a coma, the new boy in school claims to have a solution but instead leads her into the realm of the Dark Faerie and her long missing father.  She’s trapped until she fulfills a prophesy to prevent a war with magic she doesn’t even posses.

To navigate the treacherous Faery realm Lorelei must put her trust in either Zanthiel ,the compelling dark faerie from her past, or Adrius the mesmerizing boy who brought her here… who’s is fighting a curse of his own.

And shorter?  Let’s try something!

A high-school senior with fickle superpowers (thanks to a visit from a Dark Faerie) is desperate to help her mother when she goes into a coma, so she follows a new boy who claims to know a cure…  into the realm of the Dark Faerie and her own long missing Father.  She’s trapped until she fulfills a prophesy to prevent a war… using magic she doesn’t even possess.

Or what about starting this way:  When she was a child, her father disappeared and a Dark Faerie came to visit…

Okay, in order to get to all the winners, I’ll have to stop now.  Michele, I’m turning this over to you.  Email me your pitch.

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