We first met Michael Vance Gurley when he won our Pitchapalooza (think American Idol for books) in Anderson’s Bookshop (one of our favorite bookstores) in Naperville, IL. When he pitched us a book about Chicago, The Roaring Twenties, and a gay hockey player with a deep dark secret, we were hooked. We were sure it was a book. And now, lo and behold, his book The Long Season is out. So we thought we’d pick Michael’s brain about his road to publication.
The Book Doctors: How did you learn to be a writer?
Michael Vance Gurley: I remember specifically wanting to be a writer in the 7th grade, giving horror movie fan fiction to kids, who loved it and wanted more, meaning it was either good or twisted enough for the junior high mind. Creative writing classes helped add depth and purpose to characters and plots that didn’t have a machete in them. I wrote comic books, and learned the value of research, plot design, and character development. After taking a break to work around the clock for years, I decided it was time to stop working so hard at not writing and started a novel. I didn’t know how to structure it. For comics, there were templates online, so I looked there because the Internet has all the answers! Well, maybe not all, but I did some research into writing strategies for novels, like the snowflake method, which was helpful to construct an outline and character sheets. Really, the idea to write about a hockey player from the Roaring Twenties struggling to be his true self, while surrounded by all the razzmatazz of the Jazz Age and the excitement of the sports world, was so strong in my head it was like I was writing it even when I wasn’t. The simple answer is I haven’t learned to be a writer yet, as much as I continually learn to be one. My editor would agree!
TBD: What were some of your favorite books as a kid, and why?
MG: I loved The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and wanted to be him, seemingly able to control minds. My dad’s family is from Mississippi, and after school let out, I spent summers in the South. It was like I hung up my shoes and had a Huck Finn life every summer, so I related to those guys and their wild adventuring. Horror grabbed my attention at a far too early age. I remember reading Stephen King’s Misery and It all night long. I couldn’t put them down. What I read most were comic books. I devoured old Batman, Green Lantern, Fantastic Four, and X-Men. My cousins and uncles gave me boxes of books to read. I vividly remember spreading them out, that wonderful four color processing smell of old comics filling the room, and reading them over and over.
TBD: What are you reading right now?
MG: I love to read and am always reading two or three things at once. I am into classics, sci-fi, YA, steampunk, and pretty much anything. Right now, I’m reading James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. It’s a deep look at the underground gay life of Paris in the 1950s. It was so courageously written, and even though it might draw harsh criticism about demonizing gay life today, it broke ground. I’m also reading Star Trek: Sight Unseen, which follows Riker after the Next Generation movies. He’s such a powerful character, and he inspires me when I need to think of something commanding for a character to say. There’s also an incredibly diverse cast with ridiculous tongue-twister names, which help me free my mind when world building, like I’m doing with my next book. I like to alternate classics or serious novels with fun reads, or just do both at the same time while grabbing a comic book in between.
TBD: Your novel has such a cool and unusual story; how did you come up with the idea for your book?
MG: The 1907 Kenora Thistles gave me the idea. They were a ragtag, underdog hockey team who won the Stanley Cup, back when you could just challenge the champs for a shot at the Cup without having a whole season. One of the boys, Art Ross, grew up to have the leading scorer trophy with his name on it. I was looking at a hockey history book and passed a lot of old team photos until I flipped the page to this one. Back then color photography was more rare than now, a little costly, and exposure times were longer, so people were more conscientious about their poses. They were more intentional in a portrait sense of photography, and less selfie. Their team photo displays these macho iron man athletes, some with their legs curled and draped over each other in what today would be considered an effeminate manner. One of them was not looking straight at the camera, but at another player. In a flash, I thought, what if those two players had a secret? I had to write that story. I changed the time period and location because my story had to take place on my favorite team in my city! But that photo moment is in the book. Sometimes you walk through a museum and pass a hundred paintings and barely glimpse them until you get to the one, and you just know. It was too powerful an image for me to leave uncaptioned.
TBD: What were some of the joys and pitfalls of writing your first novel?
MG: Since The Long Season is a period piece, I did quite a bit of research. I’m a history buff, which meant digging into the cost of a cab ride in the 1920s or what gay life had been like in Chicago was exciting. It actually took up quite a bit of writing time because the net is an infinite suck hole if you let it be, or a fount of information if you take the time to cross-reference. It took me six months of actual writing to get to the final moment in my book, but I feel like I had been writing it in my head for a long time before that. It would fill my mind as I did other things, thinking about what would happen if I tweaked one thing or another. Writing the outline and being able to create whatever I wanted was thrilling. I don’t recall worrying too much about what to do next with a character, or having writer’s block often, since I wrote such extensive outlines. I felt amazing as I wrote the last line, knowing in my soul I accomplished what I wanted with these people.
Then editing woke me back up. Most of the pitfalls happened after the first draft, with learning to let go of bad ideas or weak paragraphs when an editor or trusted friend reviewed it. It brings the phrase ‘kill your darlings’ to a whole new level when they are your darlings what need killing. The art of creating is great. The art of destroying so you can create anew is terrifying.
All that led me to the biggest joy: winning The Book Doctors’ Pitchapalooza, a pitch contest where you get 60 seconds to win them over, in front of a crowd. Your presentation needs to be tight and powerful. They helped connect me to a great editor who shared my vision. I looked for an agent and publisher for about a year, getting rejection letters with great notes in them, while working a time-consuming job. Marketing takes so much effort. It was heartbreaking, but I believe working with my editor, Jerry Wheeler, made my novel ready to compete. The Book Doctors made an introduction to the right publisher, who has loved my work and ideas. Like my favorite band sings, “I’m standing exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
TBD: How did you go about selling your book?
MG: That’s the difficult thing! I thought painting the idea into the written book was so hard I had to make a life goal about it. The real work is struggling to learn the process of finding an agent or publisher, turning hundreds of pages into punchy one-liners and two-page synopses. I entered the Pitchapalooza contest at Anderson’s Bookshop and won, which provided me with insight about what to do next. I also took a seminar on marketing yourself in publishing. It’s a very complicated thing to do. I sent pages to countless places before someone said yes to me. Then the contract came! Although I was so excited and ready, I heeded advice and had an entertainment lawyer help out. It doesn’t become smooth sailing after you get a publisher. They will market, and so will you.
I started simple by establishing a base of potential fans on Facebook by finding authors like me and groups that share my genre, and friending/joining them. I made some great connections by liking author book pages and having them like mine. I contacted many of them directly and just asked. Now my posts reach hundreds of people. I did research about blogs and review sites that would take small press books to review, and I started contacting them. I am scheduling interviews for a blog tour with some giveaways. I arranged a book release party at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, IL for June 15th at 7 p.m. Anderson’s is the bookstore where it all started for me. I’m on the board at Youth Outlook, which runs drop-in locations and education programs for LGBT youth, and I am donating the event proceeds to them, to hopefully turn my potential success into something that benefits what I believe in. There will be press coverage. You have to have faith that the grass roots efforts will pay off in great reviews, which will drive sales.
TBD: Are you working on a new project?
MG: One of my writing goals is to challenge myself by working on vastly different projects each time. A sequel might be wonderful and would be easier to do. I even have a name for it–The Long Season: Overtime! Maybe later. My current novel is a steampunk, young adult, planned trilogy featuring LGBT main characters. I wrote some of it in comic book form back when I was self-publishing, and the interconnected world I built never left my mind. It is a much more complex plot than The Long Season and goes back further in time to the Victorian age. The research is intense, and of course, a wonderful distraction since I love history. The nice thing in speculative fiction is it is all right if I twist history to my needs even more than I deviated from known facts in The Long Season. Then I plan to swing wide to edit a first draft I’ve written for a children’s picture book, and then I plan a coming of age novel set in private school. I want to keep writing things I want to read. I want the next box of new books I open from the publisher to fill me with the same joy The Long Season did. It might be smarter to stick to a genre and make a name like James Patterson did in crime, but even he branched out into YA and other things, and that’s what I feel my path to be. Turn and face the strange! Changes.
TBD: How did working with special-needs kids influence your writing your book?
MG: The funniest work connection was when I let our COO know my novel had been signed. One of the first things he asked was whether it was about our school. I laughed because even though confidentiality is a large issue in special education, it would make an excellent book. He then reminded me in a half joking manner, that if I did, I’d be sued! I think writers put some of themselves into their work; my knowledge of how children relate to each other in times of stress, how they feel about adults in power, or when they are in need influenced how my characters relate to their worlds. Being a clinician and an educator helps me get into that headspace. The main protagonist, Brett, suffers from terrible obsessive compulsions, decades before anyone knew what OCD was or what to do about it. That came from my life of seeing so many struggle, desperate for help and a place to fit in. I want to make sure that my characters feel real to me. People that may seem unlikeable to others, or that have different methods of engaging in their environments than the norm, are what I am used to, so that’s what I write. The more someone has it figured out, the less intriguing they are to me. It’s all about the process of exploring problem solving, relationships, and responsibility in a world that is collapsing around you in a real way. And I think those things must come somewhat from my work, or maybe from an episode of Dawson’s Creek.
TBD: What were some things you learned from working with your editor?
MG: I learned not to fear the red pen or track changes in a Word document. Feedback is your friend and lots of it does not mean there is a lack of talent. I came to grips with my story being the art form, and the grammar being the frame that holds it all together. With the grammar, I needed help. My editor is very good with not only the structure, but I learned to trust in his instincts to chop when needed. A writer writes and wants there to be a lot of it. An editor doesn’t rewrite or try to change your ideas, but helps you cull what doesn’t need to be there or may be detracting. My editor did research into the time period I was using to convey my story and became an expert on the anachronistic issues of writing historical fiction of the Jazz Age. My favorite note was when I tried to write the phrase, “Rain on my parade,” into it and he reminded me that I was using a Streisand song from 1964. I laughed out loud and left him a comment when I sent it back saying I thought it qualified as the gayest correction in the whole book! So we had some fun with it.
TBD: We hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers?
MG: Learn to write. It may sound flippant, but it is so true. I think after a few rounds of editing, we got down to the writing errors of the meat, and I grew frustrated seeing hundreds of instances of ‘that’ deleted. I protested, until I read the sentences out loud, hung my head, and started reading grammar guides. It sounds strange, but Mark Twain said something about replacing all the instances of ‘very’ with ‘damn’ so the editor could do with them what should be done!
It is equally as useful to point out how patience and politeness pay off. When sending your work to an agent or publisher, there is a long period of waiting afterward. When you get a contract, there’s more waiting for editing windows and print dates. When I was shopping around, I received great advice from agents, and even other authors. When they came in the form of a rejection letter, the instinctive response can be one of anger and denial, but I thanked them with openness and gratitude for taking time to write anything at all. It’s a small world. I can draw lines between people who have helped me and some who rejected me. I was polite in my responses and patient in my timing, and I feel that it paid off in having none of those connections snap like a twig. I wrote back and forth to some authors, asking for advice. Bart Yates and Jay Bell are two of my favorite authors and they answered a lot of questions in emails. I have more stories like that than stories when someone treated me poorly.
Michael Vance Gurley was born in a Chicago hospital that was quickly condemned and torn down. He grew up and worked in the shadow of Capone’s house in a union hall, where he first discovered a love of gangsters and the Roaring Twenties. Being an avid hockey fan led him to kissing the Stanley Cup, and as an ardent traveler, he kissed the Blarney Stone, both of which are unsanitary and from which he’s lucky to only have received the gift of gab. Michael has many literary interests and aspirations. He self-published One Angry Koala, a well received comic book. His poetry has been printed in the Southern Illinois University newspaper, which was a real big deal back then.
Michael has worked with special needs children for nearly twenty years. His work with young adults led to a love of YA books, but he was raised with classic horror, beat poetry, and comics. As winner of a “Pitchapalooza” author event, Michael received some helpful guidance for his first novel, The Long Season, by literary agent/authors Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, and editor Jerry Wheeler. Michael still lives in the Chicagoland area, and despite it being cliché, gets asked about gangsters whenever traveling abroad.
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As soon as we met Jerry Nelson at the South Dakota Festival of Books, we knew he was the real deal. He has that subtle, dry, Midwestern wit that sneaks up behind you and then whacks you right in the funny bone. His first book, Dear County Agent Guy, will be published on May 3rd. Publishing is a long row to hoe, so Jerry shared his story of how he did it. This column first appeared on Agriculture.com.
It’s been nearly two decades since I began to do this silly writing thing. During that time, folks have often asked if I had considered publishing a collection of my selected works. This concept had a certain appeal – Fame? Fortune? Exciting new income tax deductions? – so I investigated the matter.
I soon learned that landing a book deal with a mainstream publisher – a publisher who isn’t just some guy with a Xerox machine in the trunk of his car – is only slightly less difficult than climbing Mount Everest on roller skates.
So my wife and I began to look into self-publishing. Some very famous writers have gotten their start via self-publishing. The original author of the Ten Commandments is a good example.
While it’s unlikely that you’ll receive a rejection letter from your self-publisher, self-publishing also has innumerable pitfalls. The main one is the actual publishing process.
I envisioned my wife ensconced in the basement, furiously cranking out copies of my work on a mimeograph machine. Meanwhile, upstairs, I would be slaving over a hot keyboard. It was a daunting proposition, but might be doable so long as my wife’s cranking arm held up.
But then fate intervened.
One September day we decided to attend the Festival of Books, a shindig that’s put on each autumn by the South Dakota Humanities Council. Call us wild and crazy, but our idea of a good time is browsing through stacks of books.
The Festival featured something called Pitchapalooza, an event that was conducted by the husband and wife team of Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry. Pitchapalooza participants must first buy a copy of Arielle and David’s book, The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published. Aspiring authors are then given 60 seconds to explain to the room why their book should be published. Beginning… now!
Even though I estimated my odds at somewhere between “none” and “lower than the bottom of a badger hole” I thought it was worth a shot.
I stood up in front of the assembled and dissembled about my columns and the idea of publishing a collection. Arielle and David offered upbeat and constructive advice, but added that nobody publishes collections anymore. Even so, they were kind enough to give me the contact info of a literary agent named Danielle Svetcov.
Danielle cautioned that nobody publishes collections anymore, but nonetheless thought that I should whip up a book proposal. Relying heavily on advice from Danielle and from Arielle and David’s book, I hammered a proposal together. When I printed it out, it was as thick as an oak tree.
Danielle suggested that I email my proposal to a handful of book editors. I didn’t expect to hear anything back from any of them. This is often how it goes in farming: no matter how hard you work, at the end of the day your wife will still probably tell you to get your muddy boots off her clean kitchen floor.
I was as shocked as the guy who backed into an electric fence when a couple of the editors expressed interest. Danielle grabbed the bull the scruff of its neck and made a deal with Workman Publishing. I later phoned Bruce Tracy, my editor at Workman Publishing. “Nobody does collections anymore,” he said. “But we’re making an exception for you. You have wonderful stuff and together we make it even wonderfuler.”
I felt like a man who had been stumbling around in a barren wasteland when one day, without warning, he spies a unicorn. Things like this never happen. At least not to me.
But there it was in black and white: A contract. A book tour. An advance!
It began to seem really real the day I partook in a conference call that involved my agent in San Francisco and my publicist in Manhattan. I thought, “Whoa! Here I am in the middle of nowhere, talking to both coasts. And all because of this silly writing thing!”
Did I mention that I now have a publicist? Everyone should have a publicist to handle all the tough questions that life throws at you.
One day, my wife demanded, “Why can’t you simply put your dirty socks in the hamper?”
“I’m sorry,” I replied. “But you’ll need to contact my publicist, Chloe, regarding that issue.”
I quickly discovered that having a publicist won’t get you out of household chores. It was worth a shot.
So here I am at the same old desk I have used for nearly 20 years. In my sweaty paw is a copy of a sparkling new book titled Dear County Agent Guy, which, I have been told, will soon be available in bookstores everywhere.
All because of this silly writing thing.
Jerry Nelson and his wife, Julie, live in Volga, South Dakota, on the farm that Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded in the 1880s. In addition to his weekly column, his writing has also appeared in the nation’s top agricultural magazines, including Successful Farming, Farm Journal, Progressive Farmer, and Living the Country Life. Dear County Agent Guy is his first book.
Dear County Agent Guy will be available from Workman on May 3, 2016. Look for our interview with Jerry in the Huffington Post next week.
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Do you want to get successfully published? Find an agent? Attract an editor at a great independent publishing house? Or do it yourself? Whichever way your publishing path takes you, your pitch is in many ways the most important arrow in your quiver. Learn how to pitch like a professional at Pitchapalooza. Like American Idol for books (only kinder and gentler), the winner receives an introduction to an agent or editor that is appropriate for his/her book. Numerous Pitchapalooza winners and participants now have book deals. Pitchapalooza is the brainchild of Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, co-founders of The Book Doctors and authors of over 25 books including The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published.
Now, for the first time, BlogHer is collaborating with The Book Doctors on an interactive online Pitchapalooza. Writers will send in their pitch, 250 words maximum. Then, on May 18, at noon (CT) we will randomly select 20 pitches, and read them aloud, one by one. We will critique them, and explain what’s working, and what needs to be improved. At the end of the webinar, a winner will be announced. Whether you get to pitch or not, this is a highly educational (and entertaining!) experience for writers. All genres are accepted. Here’s a link to the webinar on Spreecast. Anyone can listen in, but you’ll need to sign in to Spreecast to ask questions.
The Pitchapalooza is free, but in order to pitch, you must buy a copy of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully. Just send your pitch along with proof of purchase to email@example.com. This also entitles the purchaser of the book–whether you are picked to pitch or not–to a free 20-minute consultation (worth $100). The consultation will be set up after the webinar, and will take place over the phone.
UPDATE: We will accept pitches until an hour before we start.
Who We Are
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company dedicated to helping authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for over 20 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Rostan Literary Agency. She is also the author of nine books and the co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 16 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, Middle Grade fiction and reference. His first book has been translated into 10 languages and optioned by HBO, his latest book was featured on the cover of the New York Times Book Review. They’ve taught their workshop on how to get published everywhere from Stanford University to Smith College. They have appeared everywhere from The New York Times to NPR’s Morning Edition to USA Today.
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Nano Nation: You are all WINNERS! We had such a blast with this year’s National Novel Writing Month Pitchapalooza. So many AWESOME pitches, so much AMAZING imagination, such an ASTOUNDING display of dizzying talent. Thanks so much to all the writers who participated in this year’s NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza! As always, we got so many fabulous pitches it was stupidly hard to choose a winner. But choose we did. And the winner is …
MAY K. COBB is the winner for her book Big Woods. She wrote a glorious pitch with a vivid voice, scintillating story, gripping characters, and luscious location. Amazing job, May! She will receive an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for her manuscript.
The Fan Favorite this year is KELLY BRAKENHOFF for her book Death by Dissertation! She gets a free one-hour consultation with us (worth $250). Congratulations!
Sign up for our newsletter to receive advice on writing and getting published. We’ll also include info on our live Pitchapaloozas and workshops around the country. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter. And if any of you wonderful wacky Wrimos buys a copy of our book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, you will receive a free 20-minute consultation, worth 100 American dollars. Just send proof of receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re hosting a free webinar on Thursday, April 7th at 8PM EDT. During the webinar, we’ll be teaching the art of the pitch. A great pitch can open so many doors for you. A terrible pitch pretty much assures that those doors will remain closed. We will also answer any questions about pitching, publishing, writing, books, or the nature of the universe. We hope to see you on April 7th.
Read the 2016 pitches below and vote for your favorite.
- Kelly Brakenhoff (25%, 319 Votes)
- Allison Epstein (18%, 228 Votes)
- Caleb Ajinomoh (14%, 180 Votes)
- David Hogue (7%, 95 Votes)
- Chelsea DeVries (7%, 84 Votes)
- Madison Russel (6%, 72 Votes)
- Haley Bonner (4%, 55 Votes)
- Nikki Dylan (4%, 48 Votes)
- Paul Schumacher (4%, 47 Votes)
- Danielle Lewis (3%, 34 Votes)
- Patricia Walsh (3%, 32 Votes)
- James O’Fallon (2%, 26 Votes)
- May K. Cobb (1%, 16 Votes)
- Rachel Malcolm (1%, 11 Votes)
- S. Schilling-Kreutner (0%, 6 Votes)
- Sara Pierce (0%, 5 Votes)
- Carol Novis (0%, 4 Votes)
- Tlotlo Tsamaase (0%, 3 Votes)
- Jan Flynn (0%, 3 Votes)
- William Alan Webb (0%, 3 Votes)
- Miranda Lowe Summers (0%, 2 Votes)
- Jonathan Williams (0%, 2 Votes)
- Frances Avnet (0%, 2 Votes)
- Myron Kukla (0%, 1 Votes)
- Mary-Beth Brophy (0%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,279
758. That’s how many pitches we got from our awesome NaNoWriMo friends. As you can see below, we got everything from future midwives to murder-solving college administrators to husband and wife pirate teams, to virtual reality transgendering all the way from Botswana. We think it is a testament to the amazing imagination, wonderful skill, and literary daring of Wrimos the world over. Though only 25 of the 758 pitches are critiqued below, everyone should be able to take away information from these critiques and apply it to your pitch. If you read the critiques carefully, you will see certain commonalities. Too much telling, not enough showing. Too much book-report writing, not enough beautiful prose. Hardly any comparable titles. Not enough insight into our heroes. Not enough details about the dastardly villains we’re dying to hate.
Now for the 411: The 25 pitches below were selected randomly. Our comments follow each pitch. It’s our mission to try to help all you amazing writers not just get published, but get successfully published. That’s why we’ve told you what works, but also what needs to be improved.
On April 1st, we will name a winner. But, in the mean time, don’t let our opinion sway you. What story intrigues you? What pitch would prod you from the couch to the bookstore (or, if you’re really lazy, to buy it online)? This year, we’ve made it easy for you to vote for your favorite pitch. The pitch that receives the most votes will be awarded the “Fan Favorite,” and the author will receive a free one-hour consult with us (worth $250).
But please note: YOU CAN ONLY VOTE ONCE! So please choose carefully. Don’t just read the first couple of pitches — read them all. You owe it to your fellow Wrimos. Encourage your friends, family and random strangers to vote for you via the link to the poll. We will also be posting these pitches—a couple a day–on our Facebook page. We encourage anyone to “like” your entry but only poll votes from the webpage will count towards the Fan Favorite.
This year, we’re doing something new and special. We’re hosting a free webinar on Thursday, April 7th at 8PM EST. During the webinar, we’ll be teaching the art of the pitch. A great pitch can open so many doors for you. A terrible pitch pretty much assures that those doors will remain closed. We will also answer any questions about pitching, publishing, writing, books, or the nature of the universe, mankind, womankind, life, love and death. Details to follow, but mark your calendars now!
Finally, through April 1st, we are still offering a free 20-minute consult (worth $100) to anyone who buys a copy of our book The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published, which was updated in July 2015! The new edition includes information on e-books, crowdfunding, social media, micro-publishing, and more. It retains all the topics covered in the earlier edition, including how to get an agent, self-publishing, and marketing. Just email us (email@example.com) a copy of your receipt and we’ll be in touch to set up a time to talk.
Your humble servants,
The Book Doctors
P.S. You can join our newsletter to receive interviews and tips on how to get published.
Murder at Tulip Time by Myron Kukla
Murder at Tulip Time was written during NaNoWriMo 2014 and is a murder mystery romance set against the pageantry of the annual Dutch Tulip Festival in Holland, Mich.
Drawing tens of thousands of tourists, this year’s flower fest gets off to a disturbing start when the body of the town recluse is found strangled and planted in a tulip bed in the shadow of the towering DeZwaan Windmill.
Digging for the truth behind the murder, local crime reporter John Garth battles for the big stories against his arch competitor and girlfriend Jennifer Jono Ines as the body count rises. The motive could be the discovery by the deceased of a century old fraud that could make him and others multi-millionaires but rip apart the fabric of this God-fearing community. Things get personal for Garth when his car is rammed into the path of a speeding semi truck and he has to solve the murder himself before he gets killed. Prime suspects range from the city’s brash Irish mayor to a rich businessman who could lose everything by the revelation. Or, is it a competitive tulip grower seeking to create the illusive black tulip? There are plenty of suspects. But Garth pins it down to one improbable killer and a fight to the death on the spinning blades of the DeZwaan Windmill.
I am a full-time author and freelance writer living in the Tulip Capital of the world, Holland, Mich. I have 9,000 bylined stories online.
The Book Doctors: We love the hook of this pitch. The Dutch Tulip Festival. Holland, Mich.. Not only is this just cool, it has regional appeal, and what the heck, you could actually sell this book at the Dutch Tulip Festival, if there is one. It has a great team at the center of it: an arch competitor/love interest, speeding 18 wheelers, black tulips, and murder, murder, murder. The specificity of the black tulip, and the DeZawaan WinMail are what set this book apart. But again, too much telling and not enough showing. We want you to paint us beautiful pictures of what the tourists look like, what the flowers look like, and instead of telling me it’s disturbing to find a body strangled and planted in a Tulip bed, really show it to me, show me the Windmill, and make me disturbed. Because we didn’t feel a jolt at this murder. “Digging for the truth behind the murder” feels redundant because that’s what every crime reporter does. Don’t tell us things we already know. And show us our heroes together, maybe finding the body, so we can feel confident that you can create a scene full of sexual chemistry, tension and suspense. We don’t really know enough about our hero, or his love interest. What are the inner demons they are fighting against? We don’t really understand who the “him” is who’s going to get rich from the century old fraud. You haven’t really told us enough about the God-fearing community for us to care about them. We are not emotionally invested in those people. And we think that the speeding truck should be presented much more dramatically, so it gets our heart beating faster. The villains, frankly, seemed rather like clichés that we’ve seen 100 times. Also, we don’t really get a sense of the series of harrowing, crazy, madcap tulip-centric events that are going to give us plot twists and turns which will be exciting and satisfying, yet wonderfully unexpected. Plus, there’s a spelling mistake. We can’t emphasize enough how important it is proofread when submitting. And please, someone explain this to us, because we don’t understand it, where are all the comparable titles? We are very impressed that you have 9000 bylined stories, give us a couple of examples that display your self-deprecating humor, and the wide swath of your interests and expertises. Great hook for a murder mystery, interesting dynamic with the main characters, needs more specificity, local color, and some idea of the madcap plot twists that are going to entertain and delight us.
Vote for your favorite pitch. The pitch that receives the most votes will be awarded the “Fan Favorite,” and the author will receive a free one-hour consult with us (worth $250).
The Prophet’s Ladder by Jonathan Williams
A seventh century Arab general, an American robotics engineer, a Tunisian activist and her journalist fiancé, and a famous Moroccan explorer; each have a tale bound together in a novel of exploration, self discovery, and betrayal that spans centuries.
When Todd Wittry is invited to work on an astounding piece of technology — a space elevator — for an aerospace tech startup, he moves to the Middle East and learns firsthand the meaning of the term ‘culture shock.’ His journey intertwines with that of Amina Hannachi, a Tunisian activist and her journalist fiancé Ali ibn Abd al-Aziz who are attempting to build on the success of Tunisia’s Arab Spring revolution. Paralleling these modern day tribulations is the account of several of North Africa’s most famous historical figures, whose adventures eventually shape the world Amina, Todd, and Ali fight to save.
The Prophet’s Ladder is a historical science fiction novel, complete at 53,000 words.
The Book Doctors: This is a very cool idea and very timely. It’s got historical figures, culture shock, activists, fiancés, and a space elevator. We have no idea what that is, but it sounds absolutely awesome. All that being said, this pitch is not everything it needs to be. First of all, start with your title. As we said earlier, when you mention your title, it makes your book seem more like a book. Second, that first sentence is just way too long and packed with way too much stuff. By the time we get about halfway through, we’re completely lost, and have no idea who anybody is. When David was making his living as a screenwriter in Hollywood, he once had a meeting with someone at the Roger Corman company. Roger Corman was a B-movie producer who made like 10,000 films. Every single one of them made money. The executive told David that the first thing Roger Corman would do when he started a project, before writing a word, was design the poster. This forced him to ask: Who’s the star on the poster? We don’t know who’s the star on your poster. Yes, it could be one of those posters with five different stars on it, but those stories usually don’t do as well as the stories that just have one star. It’s very difficult to pitch a story with lots of characters. Usually we suggest that you pick one of your characters and make that person the hero for the purpose of the pitch. When you start your pitch by telling me it’s a novel of exploration and self discovery one part of our brains just shut off. In a certain sense, every novel is a story of exploration and self discovery. You have to start off with a bang or a hook that gets inside us and won’t let go. There’s also too much tell, not enough show. Show us that space elevator. If you’re going to dangle the idea of famous historical figures, and deliver us at least some specifics of who they are. Very of-the-moment, sounds taut, tense and brimming with fascinating characters going through amazing changes, just not enough specifics of who these people are, what the action of the book is, and the world the author is taking us to.
Vote for your favorite pitch. The pitch that receives the most votes will be awarded the “Fan Favorite,” and the author will receive a free one-hour consult with us (worth $250).
By David Hogue
“The brave are filled with fear, but they do not close their eyes,” whispers the rhinoceros Forticor to Boshko—just moments before Forticor is killed, his horn hacked off, and Boshko himself is kidnapped.
Boshko has always been the runt, the loser, the frightened one. It’s no wonder that his father, the great warrior and chief of the village, has so little to say to him. Now, dragged away from the pastures of Africa and shipped to cosmopolitan Rema, he must consider what Forticor’s words mean as he labors beside hundreds of other slaves in the state-owned Complex. It is here that objects of power—like Forticor’s horn—are stored in shrines and used to make Reman weapons powerful enough to rule the empire. Boshko’s bravery is soon put to the test when the powerful Senator Julius makes him a secret offer—freedom and a voyage home in exchange for stealing the horn for his private use. Would Forticor have approved? Probably not. But if instead, Boshko steals the horn for himself and smuggles it back to Africa where it belongs—now that will take courage.
I am a high school Latin teacher, who has been telling Greek and Roman myths to my students for the past ten years now, and I have enjoyed exploring what I consider the magical world of Roman culture.
The Book Doctors: What a slam bang crackerjack opening. So filled with action. Shocking and gruesome. Plus surreal magic realism of a talking rhinoceros. Tied in, no doubt, we already suspect, with the horrific hot-button topic of the extermination of animals because humans believe they have magical and powerful qualities. We love that you then give us a thumbnail sketch of our hero, the detail of him being a runt and the idea of him being a loser. We immediately find ourselves rooting for him to succeed. You have very quickly gotten us to emotionally bond with this character. Very well done. We also see that he’s been rejected by his father, by his family, and now he follows in the long tradition of innocents enslaved against their will by cruel greedy masters. The pitch loses us a little when we get to the part about the objects of power being stored and used to make powerful weapons. How are these weapons different than all the other weapons we’ve seen in all the other stories we’ve read? But you put us right back in the saddle when he is called upon by the rich and powerful Senator to steal the horn. And thus the plot is set into motion. The problem is, we really only have what amounts to a great set up for a story. We want to know more about the escalating series of events as our hero goes on his Odyssey with the rhinoceros’s horn. And we want some kind of answer to the question: How does the rhinoceros talk? If he’s not in an Ionesco play, that is. You say that you want to explore the magical world of Roman culture, but we don’t get enough of that in this pitch; particularly the nuts and bolts specifics of what is magical in your world. Fascinating story about the power of animals, the resilience of runts, the horrors of slavery, Africa and courage. We need to see more of the plot, and understand more of the machinations of this strange and fantastical world the author is taking us into.
Vote for your favorite pitch. The pitch that receives the most votes will be awarded the “Fan Favorite,” and the author will receive a free one-hour consult with us (worth $250).
Viroid by Tlotlo Tsamaase
College freshman Zuri Masozi grew up in a simulated world, Virtualis, where he and his friends are integrated to expensive downloadable apps that allows them to modify their gender, race and body size. He can be anything he wants to be: male, female, old, sexy. So when the medical-procedure day arrives for the eighteen-year-old boy, he’s eager for a gender change. To him the medical procedure allows him to be what he’s always desired: a girl. In Virtualis there are no surgical cuts and there are procreation options. Virtualis is idyllic unlike Realum the reality-based world Zuri abhors.
But, when a group of outsiders, Viroids, instigate attacks to overthrow Virtualis, Zuri fights to terminate them according to the government’s strict regime: by being both a student and a soldier—the perfect patriot for a dying city. Like hell will she lose her ‘selected’ gender when she’d waited years to become a woman. Virtualis is her sanctuary and the way she sees it: nothing will stand in her way to preserve it. Only, she’s clueless as to what happens to their plugged-in bodies in Realum.
VIROID is an Adult science-fiction complete at 77,000 words. VIROID hosts a multicultural diverse cast concerning their struggles with their gender, race and sexuality as they battle to survive in a power-hungry commercialist world much like Moxyland by Lauren Beukes á la Ghost in a Shell.
The Book Doctors: The issue of transitioning genders, the fluidity of sexual identity, and the choice of how one carries oneself through the world is of much interest at the moment. And we’ve never seen this issue tackled quite like this. It’s fascinating to create a virtual world where one can become whomever one wants to be without having to undergo surgery or any other physical change. Fascinating, compelling and unique. It’s everything we want in a book, taking a topic we’re interested in, and giving it a new treatment. That being said, we don’t understand enough of how the virtual world and the real world interact and coexist. It will be great to give us some word pictures of our hero/heroine in both places. We also don’t get an idea of who the Viroids are, what they look like, why they’re so intent on destroying the virtual world. And it’s a little unclear when the pronoun changes from male to female. We also, again, don’t see a series of events that escalate and lead to a fiery climax. We like the comparable title. We don’t quite see enough of the power-hungry commercialized world in the pitch and would like to see more of that because it is an of-the-moment villainous entity. And we’d like to see more of the interior of our hero, besides the fact that he/she wants to save the world and go from being a man to a woman. Shine a light inside him/her so we can see what it’s like to be in a body that’s the wrong sex. We love the fact that you’re from Botswana, and we have no idea how to pronounce your name, but it seems like it will sound absolutely wonderful when spoken aloud. Fantastic idea for addressing an issue which obsesses a nation, a very post-modern take on gender fluidity and assignment. Not a clear enough picture of how this world works, and who exactly our hero is.
Hollywood Heights by Mary-Beth Brophy
Percy Minor is an aspiring actress trying to survive in 1920s Hollywood, where desperate would-be ingénues are the ultimate party favors at smart celebrity dos. When her roommate is murdered along with Louis B. Mayer’s latest pet director, Edmund Cantor, Percy is faced with an ultimatum: team up with the Big Five studios’ sinister private police force, the Shadow Squad, to unmask the killer or become the Squad’s next victim.
Percy finds unexpected allies among Los Angeles’ most vulnerable: Pike, a gay member of the Shadow Squad; his lover Tony, an LAPD detective; and Estelle, a female Pinkerton hired to dig up blackmail material on Percy. Together, they discover that Cantor’s murder may be linked to his murky Broadway past.
Percy’s investigation leads her to a high-end brothel, the notorious Garden of Allah, and even gangster Mickey Cohen. But as the body count climbs, she realizes that she is probing a mystery that Mayer may not want solved. And in an era when vulnerable young women can simply vanish and the murder of a gay man wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, she must bring down the Shadow Squad if she hopes to escape with her life.
It’s a long fall from the Hollywood Heights.
The Book Doctors: We’re suckers for Hollywood stories. David even wrote one himself. There’s a wonderful tradition, and a big fan base, for a noirish story with tragically flawed heroes, cool-as-hell villains with their huge brute muscle-headed minions, and of course the drop-dead dames with their glamorous gams. The difficulty is that there have been so many stories written about this little part of the world, from the old school stylings of Raymond Chandler in The Big Sleep, to the neo-noir of James Elroy in LA Confidential, to the modern madness of Don Winslow in Savages. So when you start your pitch with the phrase “aspiring actress” we’re already bored. Swear to God, that’s all it takes. If you have to go through 50 pitches every day, just looking for some reason to say no, that phrase shines like a neon cliché sign. You have to show us how your writing is different, fresh, a new take on a time-honored tradition. When you use general generic words like “sinister” and “murky”, we drift. As Arielle says, a pitch is like a poem, every word counts. The gay angle is interesting, but that was one of the key plot points in LA Confidential. What are you going to do that we haven’t seen before? And there’s not enough word pictures that show us this fabulous world you’re promising us. Inside the brothel for example. At the lavish parties. Bathe us in that spectacular lavish era. Vulnerable women and gay men get chewed up and spit out in Tinsel Town then disappear; that’s been the staple of these kinds of stories since the 1930s. We need to see more of how you are going to add something to this genre. The way you introduce the murders is also quite undramatic. It’s a dead body. And you bury it in the middle of the sentence. Jolt us with that dead body. And speaking of sentences, the second sentence is just TOO LONG. We can’t remember where we were at the beginning by the time we get to the end. We tried reading the sentence out loud. It was so exhausting we needed a nap by the time we were done. We didn’t get enough of a climax either. We want you to show us worst-case scenario, what’s going to happen to this dame: details, word pictures, make sure we’re hanging by our fingertips off the edge of the cliff thinking: She can’t possibly overcome these seemingly insurmountable odds. A great setting, stylish writing, very promising, not enough specificity, not enough plot, not enough twists and turns, or details from the Hooray for Hollywood Golden Years.