Really fun Pitchapalooza on KCUR-FM/KCUR-HD1 | Kansas City Public Radio
“I’m reading a new book I downloaded on my Kindle and I noticed an underlined passage. It is surely a mistake, I think. This is a new book. I don’t know about you, but I always hated underlined passages in used books…. And then I discovered that the horror doesn’t stop with the unwelcomed presence of another reader who’s defaced my new book. But it deepens with something called view popular highlights, which will tell you how many morons have underlined before so that not only you do not own the new book you paid for, the entire experience of reading is shattered by the presence of a mob that agitates inside your text like strangers in a train station.
“So now you can add to the ease of downloading an e-book the end of the illusion that it is your book. The end of the privileged relation between yourself and your book. And a certainty that you’ve been had. Not only is the e-book not yours to be with alone, it is shared at Amazon which shares with you what it knows about you reading and the readings of others. And lets you know that you are what you underline, which is only a number in a mass of popular views…. Conformism does come of age in the most private of peaceful activities–reading a book, one of the last solitary pleasures in a world full of prompts to behave. My Kindle, sugar-coated cyanide.”
–Andrei Codrescu on NPR’s All Things Considered
After having travelled America coast to coast Pitchapaloozing, we were extremely excited and slightly terrified to bring it to our own hometown: Montclair, NJ. Because Montclair is populated with publishing professionals (shake a tree here and an editor from Harper Collins or a New York Times writer will fall out), we were worried that the jaded been-there, done-that mentality might make our event seem passé. But we also know that basically everyone in Montclair wants to write a book, so we were optimistic that there were enough writers who would be hungry to dine at our publishing buffet. Plus we had an all-star panel of judges: Dominick Anfuso, Editor-in-Chief of The Free Press/Simon & Schuster, agent Liza Dawson, founder of Liza Dawson Associates, and Pamela Satran Redmond, New York Times bestselling author and founder of MEWS.
While we started a little late in the game with publicizing our event, we ended up working our tails off to get the word out. We hooked up with Meetup groups, sent stuff to the Montclair State University student newspaper, and its writing department. We got something up on Baristanet, and a couple of pieces in the Montclair Times. Margot Sage-El, the amazing owner of the amazing bookstore, Watchung Booksellers, did her part getting the word out via her website and emails. We also put up posters in the bookstore and at strategic spots in town where writers like to hang and sip their decaf soy lattes with just one shot. The piece on Baristanet sparked some flaming, hate spewing in the comments. Montclair seems to be such a liberal, happy place, but there can be an undercurrent of profound anger bubbling just below the surface. Very David Lynch-ey.
It was a freezing, frigid night. David arrived at 6:15 to help the videographer who was nowhere to be found. The library tech guy announced at 6:40 that the sound system they promised us “wasn’t working.” David, seething, asked the library tech guy what he meant. He explained, that the sound system they had promised didn’t, in fact, work. David, now livid, demanded an explanation. The library tech guy explained that the sound system wasn’t working and he apologized very nicely. David, overwrought, immediately began to assemble his portable sound system–yes, David travels with a portable sound system for just this very reason. And since we were videotaping this Pitchapalooza, we had to have sound. Arielle had not yet arrived, but Montclair’s best and brightest were already piling in by the score. The wonderful staff of Watchung Booksellers, who were sponsoring our event, were frantically putting out more chairs, always a good sign 10 minutes before an event. The videographer finally called, her GPS sent her through Chinatown from Long Island.
Arielle had still not arrived when David had managed to hook up and amplify three mikes. Made them hot. The judges arrived. Steven Pace and Michael Rockliff, two of our favorite people from our publisher, were there. At 6:55, the videographer arrived, a whiff of Chinatown wafting after her. She began frantically setting up. At 6:58, Arielle showed up. The babysitter had been late, some horrendous accident with ambulances had blocked up the streets of Montclair, and there were no parking spaces. Her cheeks were radiating red as she tried to catch her breath as she settled into her judge’s chair. Imagine our gratitude and joy when we started the show at 7:07, exactly as planned, with the cameras rolling and someone from the Montclair Times snapping pix.
Compared to places like Denver, Colorado and Naperville, Illinois, it seemed at first to be a rather subdued crowd of about 125. But once the train started rolling, we heard some top-notch pitches. Ani, an autistic artist and visionary had a stunning book that’s a visual representation of how her autistic mind/soul/spirit sees the world. Plus she has cool green hair. A poet writing a memoir from the POV of a house. A guy who had been tortured by nuns as a kid. But the winner blew everyone away. Wearing a sweatshirt that said, “Careful or you’ll end up in my novel”, she rocked a revisionist historical novel about the Founding Fathers and the creation of America. Spellbinding, smart, timely and timeless, historic and au currant. Plus—get this–she was 15 years old! David confessed afterwards that he had never felt stupider remembering what he was doing at 15.
As usual, our panel doled all kinds of precious info. At one point Dominick said, “I don’t know exactly what your book is. The voice isn’t distinctive and unique. I wouldn’t know which editor I would send assign it to.” Fascinating to see the world through the eyes of a guy deciding which editor to choose. Liza Dowson pointed out the basics clearly, precisely and warmly. Who is the audience? What are the comparable writers/books? Why are you the person to write this book? Pamela Satran Redmond, gushed over a great pitch for a grandmother naming book (she is the author of some of the bestselling naming books of all time) and handed out helpful hints and bon mots about locating, reaching out, and touching your audience.
After the event, the grandmother naming book lady was besieged by admirers and publishing peeps. Our 15-year-old winner (the youngest in Pitchapalooza history) was wide-eyed, stunned, and giddy with glee. Apparently she’s finished five drafts of the novel, but is not quite satisfied yet (why can’t all writers think like this?!). Afterwards people were so nice. It was great to catch up with Montclarian amigos and make lots of new friends among our homies. Laura Schenone, James Beard Award winner and author, and Herb Schaffer, President of Schaffner Media, sat right in front. Laura and Herb also happen to be our closest friends here in Montclair. It was strangely comforting to have our extended family in the hizzle laughing and nodding in all the right places.
We also tried something new. We announced a paid workshop at the Pitchapalooza, then rented a room a week later to do our Stanford University presentation: How to Get Successfully Published. We had no idea if it would work. But we’re constantly trying to evolve the way we get our ideas out into the world. Trying the next thing to see what you can learn to make your thing more easily accessible, simpler for someone who wants it to say: YES.
There was a lot of Montclair love at the Montclair Public Library. The library was great, sound system notwithstanding, and they continue to be an incredibly underrated resource in our community, one that must be supported, nourished, and treasured. Thanks Montclair. We’ve been here 3 years and change, and we can honestly say, Montclair has been very, very good to us. Next stop, Kansas City!
Consider 25 Sophie’s Choices.
Consider 25 juicy, delicious pitches.
Consider that you only get to choose one.
We did. And after much consideration, we have chosen a winner. It was not an easy choice! There were just so many great pitches. But we kept coming back to one. And that one, as you may have guessed, is Sparrow Migrations by Cari Noga. Cari’s storytelling ability , strong voice, and her idea to revolve her book around an event that captured America, won us over. We really wanna read this book. Congratulations Cari!
As for the fan favorite, the fans have spoken and the winner is…drum roll… Out of the Woods by father-son team, David and Ben Ash. Congratulations guys!
Thank you all so much for participating in what, for us, has been a fabulously fun Pitchapalooza. We hope EVERYONE gets happily published!
Hello NaNoWriMo Peeps!
Pitchapalooza Online NaNoWriMo Style! It’s been such a blast hosting this madness. We’ve met NaNoManiacs all over the country from teenagers to senior citizens, and we have grown very fond of them. Thanks to all for sending in your dream, in 200 words or less. Here are a few things we learned about our fellow NaNoWriMo participants:
1) You’re some of the most gracious and appreciative writers we’ve ever had the pleasure of e-meeting.
2) You get the job done, but you wait until the last second.
3) You’re a thoroughly creative, fabulously fun, diverse and fascinating group of humans that we’d love to hang out with.
We wish we could’ve commented on everyone’s submission. But to do that we would’ve had to put our 3-year-old up for adoption. So, as promised, we have randomly chosen 25 pitches that we hope to help improve. Please read them through because for the first time ever, you have the opportunity to vote for your favorite pitch. Let us know which pitch you like best by emailing email@example.com. The fan favorite—if different from our choice—will win a free copy of The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published and a free 20-minute consultation with us.
Plus, through March 1, anyone who buys a copy of The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published gets a free 20-minute consultation worth $100 (please send proof of purchase to email above).
Before we get to the 25 pitches, we just wanted to say a word about why we do this contest. Why in the world is a pitch so important? Because your pitch will be both the backbone and lifeblood of your book, from idea through and past publication.
The first time you announce to anyone that you’re going to write a book, there’s an excellent chance their response will be “What’s your book about?” And you will respond with your pitch. When you approach agents, you will have to pitch them your book. When your agent approaches an editor at a publishing house, she will pitch your book. When the editor presents your book at his editorial meeting, he will pitch your book to his editorial colleagues as well as his colleagues in publicity, marketing and sales. If you’re lucky enough to sell your book to a publisher, the sales force will go out to large retailers and small booksellers alike to pitch your book. And the publicity and marketing staff will be pitching your book to the media. If you get on Terry Gross and she asks you, “What your book is about?” you’re going to answer with your pitch. If you self-publish, your pitch has to be so good it’ll bust down the heavily guarded doors of bookstores, distributors, the media, and everyone else you and you alone will have to deal with. And no matter how you publish, if you’re really lucky, your pitch will live on long after you’re dead. A hundred years from now, when a reader in New York is devouring your book on the screen implanted in her wrist while waiting for her molecular transporter to take her to New Shanghai, and the person next to her says, “What’s that book about?” . . . you better hope that reader can give one hell of a pitch!
But what makes for a perfect pitch? Every book makes a promise to its readers: to educate, to challenge, to humor, to romance, to inspire, to entertain. A pitch must take your promise and deliver it lickety-split. The beauty of a major league pitch is that it contains the juicy essence of your book, it’s over in no time at all and it leaves the crowd oohing and aahing in awe. Your pitch should entertain and delight, pique interest or give pause, depending on what kind of promise you need to deliver. Make your tear-jerker jerk some tears. Make the pot boil on your potboiler. And for your work of lyrical, literary fiction, wow your audience with your poetry. At the end of your pitch, you want the person you’re pitching to say, “Wow, I can’t wait to read that book!” or “I can’t believe I never thought of that before!” or “I know someone who would really love that book!” A beautifully crafted pitch is a skeleton key that will open hearts, minds and many doors.
Many pitches will also benefit by saving room for some “comp titles” at the end. “Comp titles” are publishing lingo for comparable books. You’ll see our comments about comp titles throughout the 25 submissions that were randomly chosen. Don’t make the mistake of saying, “My book is the next Harry Potter”, because no one will believe you and you’ll look like a rank amateur. But do say what books your book will sit next to on the bookshelf. If you display that you know your section of the bookstore well and can reference books that aren’t necessarily household names but which insiders know to be top-notch or backlist sellers, you’ll get extra credit. Good comp titles help agents and editors immediately position your book in the marketplace and understand if your book is a fit for them.
There are actually two kinds of pitches: 1) the elevator pitch, which is over by the time the elevator gets to the next floor, and 2) your long-form pitch. When we say long-form, we’re talking 200 words or less, like you’ve all done here. And if you’re telling someone your pitch, never, ever, let your pitch go longer than a minute. In fact, many long-form pitches can be done in under 30 seconds. Whenever pitches go longer than 200 words or a minute, eyes start to glaze and boredom sets in. Hey, most people are willing to give you a minute, but often not a second longer.
So how do you master the pitch? Read tons and tons of flap copy in the section of the bookstore where your book will live. The backs of paperbacks, where the whole kit and caboodle is limited to a paragraph or two, tops are particularly helpful. You’ll see how concise those copywriters had to be, and how they managed to describe a book–and sell it–in only a few sentences.
Once you’ve figured out the words, then you’ve got to practice your delivery. Rehearse on your own, then start pitching everybody, everywhere. The more often you pitch, the sooner you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. If during a certain part of your pitch, people look confused, bored or nonplussed, cut or change those parts. Sometimes it’s as simple as reordering your words or trimming some fat. Get feedback. Keep refining your pitch until it rolls trippingly off your tongue. Until people who hear or read it want to be in business with you and your idea. As Valerie Lewis, co-owner of Hicklebee’s in San Jose, California, says, “You have to pitch in a way that eliminates the possibility of getting back the word ‘No.’ ”
And now…drum roll…for the pitches!!!
Sparrow Migrations by Cari Noga
Consider the sparrow. Robby Palmer certainly does. And the pigeons. The woodpeckers. And especially, the geese. Aboard a sightseeing ferry with his parents, Robby, a 12-year-old with autism, witnesses the “Miracle on the Hudson” plane crash and becomes obsessed with the birds blamed. His obsession provides a precarious perch from which he dares, for the first time, to mingle with the world.
Consider the future. Deborah DeWitt-Goldman ponders it constantly. Half of an academic power couple at Cornell, she and husband Christopher have completed prenatal genetic testing. Vacation-bound when Flight 1549 plunges into the icy river, Christopher receives a text while awaiting rescue. Deborah, who’s silently tired of their comfortable, tidy lives, fears being denied motherhood. But the message portends far higher stakes.
Consider the truth. Brett Richards is cowering before it. A preacher’s wife who’s hid a secret for years, she’s aboard the ferry, too. Caught by a TV camera as her incredulous daughter Amanda watches at home in Pennsylvania, Brett must weigh being true to herself against Amanda’s judgment. Sparrow Migrations is a story of ordinary people transformed by an extraordinary event — and by each other. They learn, despite long, harrowing journeys, birds always make it home.
Arielle: Boy did I like your pitch! I loved that it’s centered around an event that I and millions of others were so captivated by and I’m sure would love to revisit through fiction. I also found it poetic and, in its own literary way, suspenseful. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: 1) I was slightly confused by the text message discussed in the paragraph about the couple, and 2) I might like one sentence about how the three characters come together. Is it during the rescue? After? Overall, this is top-drawer!
David: I love the way your pitch has a structure, with the word “Consider” at the beginning of each paragraph. It makes me think you are a good writer and that you can probably write a very good book. I also love stories that play around with real historical events, seen from a myriad of perspectives. It reminds me a little bit of the movie Short Cuts by Robert Altman. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: 1) I thought the stakes should be higher in a much more specific way. What exactly is at stake for the boy? Just saying the stakes are higher doesn’t make the stakes higher with the couple. Again, what are the consequences for Brett and the choice she has to make? You have to show me not tell me. And I guess in the end I feel like, not all birds do always make it home. But I love the idea of ordinary people transformed. This is a book I would like to read.
Lost & Found by Heather Renee Hanson
In a flooded and struggling world, an obsessed mother, Elaine, finds herself poverty-stricken and living on the streets after a fifteen-year struggle to rescue her lost daughter, Bree, and stop Kitty, Bree’s captor, from developing a ‘cure’ for the virulent Berserker Virus. Fearing that Kitty’s biological experiments will result in the teen’s death, Elaine accepts help from Mitch, unwitting heir to an influential crime family, unaware she’s triggered his family’s curse. To survive it, Mitch needs nothing less than Elaine’s unfeigned love, regardless of his own opinions of her.
After the two kidnap Bree, Elaine discovers the teen doesn’t want to be ‘rescued’ from her adoptive mother. As they contend with their resentful prisoner and try to figure out how to stop Kitty from producing her socially harmful ‘cure’ for the Berserker Virus, Elaine and Mitch are captured by Kitty in a surprise confrontation. However, when Kitty admits to Bree during the fight that she had used the girl in her experiments, Bree sides with Elaine and Mitch and helps them defeat and, incidentally, kill Kitty.
Arielle: There are clearly lots of interesting plot twists here. I particularly like that the teen doesn’t want to be rescued. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: Your pitch is difficult to follow. That’s because it’s what we call a plot-heavy pitch. A plot heavy pitch is when you say this happens, then this happens, then this happens, then this happens, etc. When you’re writing a pitch, it’s helpful to think about a movie trailer. Every movie trailer gives a series of detailed images, but then they typically pull back the camera and give you a more global sense of the action. The other issue I see with this pitch is that there are too many characters to follow in 200 words. Who is the person on the poster for the movie of this book? That is the person the pitch should focus on.
David: The idea of unfeigned love and a family’s curse resonates with so much of our mythology. Mothers pitted against daughters, kidnappings, a wild Virus, sounds like it’s packed with action and passion, and there’s always a market for a book like this, if it’s done well. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: The sentences are just way too long and convoluted, I got lost. I want to know more about the specifics of the world, what it looks like, why it’s flooded. What is the Virus, and what does it do to you? I don’t think you should give away the ending of your book. I think it would be much better to have a series of questions that leave it like a cliffhanger. And I don’t see the hero’s journey here. I don’t quite understand where this book fits into the bookstore also. You definitely need Comparable Titles.
Grimstone Academy by Jen Oldham
Fourteen-year-old Bennett Motere is your typical teenager: he doesn’t like school, his parents are getting divorced, and girls make his hands sweaty.
Oh, and he accidentally burned down his high school’s cafeteria.
Ben is shipped off to certain doom: boarding school. After being kicked out of four schools, Grimstone Academy is the only school left that is willing to take him. Ben is certain that nothing will be different at the school with the worst reputation in the tri-state area. But looks can be deceiving. Ben soon realizes that Grimstone is a safe haven for teenagers who have extraordinary talents. And he is one of them.
But there is trouble brewing behind Grimstone’s doors. Together with his new friends Ben must discover exactly why students have been vanishing from the halls throughout the years and figure out who is attempting to close Grimstone’s doors permanently.
Filled with magic, terrifying camping trips, secret doorways, deathly pine trees, the world’s fastest game of soccer, and even a little bit of romance, Grimstone Academy whisks readers to a world where kids can cause blizzards with a snap of the fingers, take a tree for a walk, or even fly.
Arielle: This is an airtight pitch. Well-written. Terrific protagonist. Good tension. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: To me, Grimstone Academy sounds like Harry Potter redux. The good news is that if this is just true for your pitch and not for your book, it’s an easy fix. Phrases like, “teenagers who have extraordinary talents”, “filled with magic”, “secret doorways”, can be removed and be replaced with more original specific details from the book that are thoroughly different from Harry Potter.
David: The boarding school book has been a perennial favorite since Catcher in the Rye. And this one seems to be a fun twist on a tried and true sub-genre. And I like the specific details of taking a tree for a walk, or a fly. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I want to know more about why our hero got kicked out of schools one after the other. He accidentally burned down his school? I just didn’t fall in love with this guy. What distinguishes this kind of magic from every other magical book in a very crowded section of the bookstore? What was so terrifying about the camping trips? And I don’t have a villain to hate. You’ve got to give me some kind of bad guy I can sink my teeth into.
Running Away From the ID Chip by Tasha Jollymour
My book, Running Away From the ID Chip is about a young girl, Alexis, her parents, and her younger brother, as they struggled to avoid being forced into practises they disagreed with.
Canada had passed a law which made implanted ID chips mandatory to all citizens. The ID chip was advertised by the government to be a substitute for bank cards, credit cards and passports as well as an aid to getting lost or kidnapped. They were mainly used so the government could track Canadians and have access to all their banking and personal information.
Alexis and her family ran away from society into the forest so they didn’t have to get ID chips implanted in their arms. They were caught by the government and forced to get the implanted tracking devices. In the end Alexis and her family got their chips removed and moved to England where ID chips weren’t needed.
Alexis’ family had happily settled into their new life in England when shocking news arose making implanted ID chips mandatory there as well. This is how the story ends, leaving the readers at a cliff hanger.
This book tells the gripping story of how a family fights for personal freedom against the government from a young girls point of view.
Arielle: The idea of the ID Chip is one, I think, so many of us fear. And it’s a great topic for a novel. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: Your pitch reads like a book report. I have no idea what the voice of the novel is like. And your pitch should imitate the voice of your prose. The other issue here is the ending of the pitch. It’s great to end your pitch with a cliffhanger, but not your book. Readers don’t want to read a book that ends in a cliffhanger. They want to read a book with a satisfying ending.
David: I like the idea that this is from the young girl’s point of view. The idea of an ID chip doesn’t seem that far-fetched (in a good way), and it’s a very cool visual. I could just see it in a Tom Cruise movie. Plus, the idea of the government impinging on our personal freedom is one that resonates with me, and I know huge numbers of people all over the world are very concerned about this. As well they should be. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I think your pitch should start with some exciting action. Save the title for the end, and give us some comparable titles. Yes, you can’t, in my humble opinion, have an ending that’s not totally satisfying. If your first book doesn’t do fabulously well and sell tons and tons of copies, there almost certainly won’t be a second book. Beginning, middle and end. And I don’t know anything about our hero or his family really, who they are, why I should be emotionally invested in them. Don’t tell me it’s gripping, grip me.
The Love Code by Lee Libro
The Love Code is a look into a future where genetic engineering reaches its apex and threatens to eliminate the neurochemical components of love from the human brain. With a nod to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” this modern Frankensteinian tale examines the true meaning of being human.
Evan Lindquist is an unsuspecting graduate student chosen for the post-doctorate program hosted by the god of biotech, Dr. Theo Rappaccini, founder of Genisom and literally the world’s savior who, through his genetic modification of agriculture, has delivered humanity from starvation.
When Evan takes residence in the Rappaccini home, he is allowed into the Doctor’s inner sanctum and becomes obsessed with his brilliant but aloof daughter. Soon Evan discovers that his every move is monitored and his post-doc candidacy has had more to do with his own genetics than his academic record. His inability to win over the doctor’s daughter leads him to discover an organized scheme, an edict coming down from an alien source: to tamper with the neurochemistry that creates human love. In the end he will have to choose between science and love: losing the love of his life or the love of all humanity.
Arielle: This a well-written pitch that gives me a really good sense of what this book is and who would enjoy it. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: 1) Make the first paragraph the last, 2) I got confused when you say he was unable to win over the doctor’s daughter but then refer to losing the love of his life at the end. I was also confused about the “edict coming down from an alien source”. Seems like you’re diving into another genre there. 3) I would’ve liked a modern comp title for this book. Both of your comparisons are from the 19th centry.
David: I like that this book is both rooted in the past, and looking forward to the future. Reminds me of that great movie with Edward G. Robinson, Soylent Green. And the idea that we are being manipulated into thinking that we found our salvation, when in fact we’re being harvested seems to very cool. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: Some of the sentences are just too long. I got lost in them. Again, I would start with some action. I also don’t understand what the consequences of tampering with the neurochemical components of love. And how exactly does Frankenstein come into all this? Who are these aliens and how are they different from all the other aliens we have seen? Are the aliens villains, or is Rappaccini? And if so I don’t quite know why I should hate him so much.
The Seven Noble Knights of Lara by Jessica Knauss
No one can safely ignore doña Lambra. Her need for revenge leaves the plains of tenth-century Spain stained red with the blood of her seven warrior nephews. That same blood rises up from the rich soil of Andalusia in the form of Mudarra. This knight of noble lineage can bring meaning to his life only by exacting revenge on doña Lambra and her pawn husband. Can Mudarra bring balance to the feuding families? Will he be satisfied with a simple revenge?
This novel brings together the best from The Godfather and María Rosa Menocal’s The Ornament of the World. I hold a PhD in Medieval Spanish literature. I infuse the story with details like gleaming silks spilling out of chests, rough coins slanting on a table, and turning the goblet to avoid drinking from the same spot as your neighbor.
In an age of superheroes and superpowers, this book returns to a simple hero, a mere mortal born with a special purpose. The setting is exotic, but the complicated web of rivalry and admiration between the cultures means that it fits seamlessly into our multi-ethnic, multi-denominational, and multi-problematic world.
Arielle: This novel has a great setting and you sound like just the right person to pull off recreating this world. I think your first paragraph nicely sets up the story. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: 1) I would switch the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs. 2) In the current second paragraph you say, “I infuse the story with details…” Don’t tell us about these details, fill out your first paragraph with them (though I don’t know what “rough coins slanting on a table” means)! 3) To say your work represents the best of The Godfather and Menocal is presumptuous. If you want to use these comparisons, you might want to say something to the effect of: In this historical tale, I bring together the textured violent families of Mario Puzzo and the vivid descriptions of medieval Spain of Maria Rosa Menocal.
David: A story that takes us to a far-off, exotic, fascinating time and place is always welcome on my bookshelf. I like the little details you put in, contrasted with your very concrete idea of where this fits into a bookstore, what kind of agent or publisher will handle this book. What kind of reader will read it. I also like the poetry in the writing. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: There doesn’t seem to be enough action in this pitch. What does doña Lambra do specifically that spills all this blood? I need more word pictures, rather than just generalities. I like the idea of the hero, but I don’t really know enough about him and his character in the end to fall in love with him yet. In the end of your pitch feels a bit anti-climatic to me.
Star-Adjacent by Colbie Martin
Thank you for the opportunity to introduce you to Emory Eliot. Emory is what you’d call a Star-Adjacent – a personal assistant. In this case, to Hollywood’s hot new Scottish import, actor Gerry McOh-My-Golly. Of course, she knows she can’t have him. Stars and their Adjacents don’t mix. It would go against the natural laws of Hollywoodland as upheld by Emory herself, her friends, her AA group (Assistant’s Anonymous), and all of L.A.’s super-star actors – except one: Gerry.
STAR-ADJACENT is the funny, romantic story of a young woman who realizes that she is – as they say in tinseltown – capable of hitting her mark. It also makes timely, witty observations on social hierarchy and celebrity culture in the age YouTube and The Real Housewives. This 75,000-word novel will appeal to readers of Lauren Weisberger, Mary McNamera, and Jane Austen (whose novel Persuasion was an inspiration for this book).
I’ve worked as a personal and production assistant and have had the opportunity to work with and observe actors during their most candid moments. I’ve used my insights and experiences to create Emory’s world. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Well, almost.
Arielle: I love this pitch! It’s funny, interesting, specific, universal and takes me into a world I’m oh-so-curious to know more about—in a sick sort of way. I love the title. I don’t know if this is the real name give to star’s personal assistants or not, but I don’t care. It captured my attention. The comp titles are spot-on. I would normally say not to compare yourself with Jane Austen. But since Persuasion was the inspiration for the book, I think it’s okay. And your bio tells me that this book is marketable. Also, great last line. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: 1) I wouldn’t waste your first line thanking us for letting you introduce your main character. I know you can come up with a killer first line. 2) You don’t need to tell us that this book is funny and romantic. We already know that. You’ve proven it already. 3) I’m not sure what “hitting her mark” means. Does that mean that she’s capable of seducing the star?
David: I spent a few years in Hollywood as an actor and screenwriter, and this story feels very real to me. Like the person telling it knows what she’s talking about. And people always love a real insider’s view into a fascinating slice of American culture, in this case Tinseltown and the City of the Fallen Angels, swimming pools and movie stars, celebrity culture gone wrong. I like the playfulness of the language and I actually do fall in love with this heroine. Comp titles are very good. And I very much enjoy the way the pitch ends. Just the right tone. A very good pitch. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I agree that you can cut words out of this pitch. For example, I think the pitcher should start: “Meet Emory Eliot. She’s Star Adjacent.” I don’t want you to tell me that your story is funny or romantic. I want you to make me laugh and romance me. Which you do the most for. You don’t need to tell me how charming you are. And you don’t need to tell me how many words are in your book.
Charlotte’s Inheritance by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt
What happens when a Jane Austen heroine finds herself surrounded by Darwinian men? She takes notes about the mating habits of the dunnock and attracts a mate of her own.
My name is Charlotte Wasseaux. When I was seventeen my father removed me from the convent where I had spent my childhood to join him at Endersley, our family’s estate. I did not know my father well as he had spent years traveling the globe studying birds. He was cold and unpleasant to me when I arrived, but his assistant, Mr. Drell, was friendly enough for two. At Endersley I met and learnt from scientists of the day. Mr. Charles Bonaparte taught me the basics of ornithology, and I developed a special relationship with his son, Lucien. This emerging scientific thought sometimes ran counter to the convent’s teachings. Mrs. Pearson, my Quaker companion, helped me sort through these differences. Lucy Gibson, my friend from the convent, required help with a romance; I was her cupid. She, in turn, was mine. From each of these friends I gained knowledge, confidence and direction.
Charlotte’s Inheritance is the story of a young woman, finding herself, in a world re-defining itself.
Arielle: As a Jane Austen fanatic, I was terribly excited about this idea, which is so fun. And your book will obviously not only appeal to all the Austenites out there, but also to all the Darwin lovers—two great groups! WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I think you need to take it out of the first person, except for the possibility of a line or two at the beginning. Otherwise, you have your protagonist explaining the plot, which is awkward. We also don’t really get to see what is Jane Austen-like about this character because she is describing herself. Jane Austen’s characters are so great because they are observed by such a witty and brilliant narrator. In addition, this pitch falls into two parts for me: the part about the science and then the part about Mrs. Pearson and Lucy. I need these two parts to be sewn together with a little less seam showing.
David: I love the voice of this pitch. I disagree with Arielle, I like it in the first person. You really take us into this girl’s worlds through her language. And I like the way it begins, which sets up the whole thing. The conflict between science and religion is a fascinating one, and your reference to Cupid makes me believe there will be fun romantic entanglements. I like the little tag line at the end. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: But I do agree with Arielle that it seems like two different pitches that are not woven together very well. I want to know more about the romance, obstacles, predicaments and young men. And the stakes don’t seem high enough to me.
Untitled by Ann H. Fisher
Can the dark deeds of the past ever be completely buried? Ask the residents of River City, where two little girls disappeared from their neighborhood more than fifty years ago, and the town swimming pool was filled in when the community leaders objected to opening it up to all children. Now water is starting to rise all over town, first in the big old house down near the river where the elderly daughter of one of the town’s most prominent families lives in just one room, but soon spreading all over town. As the people scurry and the rats leave the river banks, Water Department head Brick Connor tries to figure out what is at the bottom of the horror overtaking his town with the help of his former lover, librarian Inez Weaver.
I am a retired librarian, that’s right, and have published book reviews in Library Journal for over thirty years. This is my second novel, topping 50,000 words and written as a challenge through the National Novel Writing Month. I began by asking, what really scares people?
Arielle: I adore the premise for this book. And I also adore the writing. I can tell you can write with a capital W. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I feel like you ended the pitch too soon. The first paragraph ends very abruptly with the intro to two characters we know nothing about. I would remove the second and third sentences of the second paragraph and instead add two sentences to the end of the first. Tell us more about Brick and Inez. Why should we root for them? Who are they?
David: This seems like a great time Stephen King premise to me. Sins of the past coming back to haunt the town in some allegorical but simultaneously devastating way. I like the details of the rats leaving the river banks. It really feels like you know how to tell a story. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I really don’t know anything about the hero of this book. Who am I falling in love here with and why exactly? I don’t know anything about the librarian character, what makes her special and interesting, are they going to fall back in love with each other, or at least be tempted? And again, some of these sentences are just too long, I can’t remember where I started by the time I get to the end.
And yes, the whole thing does end too quickly.
Untitled by Rachael Moore
Kate’s been living on autopilot for years. Surprising herself – and everyone else – by walking out on her boring boyfriend at her best friend’s wedding, she takes a job on a remote Scottish island. Falling at the feet of her new boss gets her first day off to a bad start. Then she accidentally rescues a seal pup, meets a handsome bagpiper, and discovers she’s actually good at something. Could falling in love with someone unattainable be the best thing that ever happened to her?
I living in a village in the English countryside and write a UK top ten blog at http://talesfromthevillage.com. With my fourth child reaching preschool age, I decided it was time. One month of ignoring the children, sleepless nights and burnt dinners and my 50,000 words were written.
Arielle: This pitch exemplifies an interesting issue we see over and over again. The paragraph about the author—not the actual pitch—is where the writing and the voice come alive. From reading your bio, I know you’re going to be funny. I know you’re going to create characters that I’m going to care about. I know you’re going to have quirky fun details throughout your book. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: You leave all these wonderful qualities out of your pitch! You need to make us fall in love with Kate in the pitch. Make us laugh out loud or at least chuckle with her fun and surprising details. And, lastly, give us a little more story. You have 68 more words before you hits the 200-word mark. Use them. Fill this pitch out! I know you can do it. In a three-sentence bio, you completely had me!
David: The fish out of water story is a great way of creating drama, conflict and humor. It sounds a little bit like that Burt Lancaster movie, Local Hero. I love the details of the seal pup, a handsome bagpiper and the idea of someone discovering something they’re good at. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I will say it again, it doesn’t feel like the stakes are high enough. What are the consequences of things going wrong? I don’t get the full sense of the hero’s journey here. I agree with Arielle, that I fall in love with you in your last paragraph, more than I fall in love with the heroine of your story.
Lifeline, a speculative action/suspense novel by Tim Christian
Fifty years after a disease has killed off all adults, a group of kids race to find a cure before they reach puberty and also succumb to the disease. Steve, who until recently was required only to assist in the search for a cure, is thrown reluctantly into a leadership position after the current leader commits suicide. Steve has always adhered to the rules established by the last of the adults, but now he sees that those rules have failed as society crumbles around him.
Steve’s efforts are threatened by a second group of kids whose own attempts to cure the disease have made them violent and bestial, but who may hold the key to a true cure. Though he has witnessed the brutality the second group is capable of – boys murdered for food, girls kidnapped and impregnated – Steve realizes he must infiltrate their camp and steal their cure before humanity is wiped out.
Arielle: We see tons of biological thrillers cross our desk. So I’m kind of immune (tee hee!) to their premises. But I like this one. It interests me. I like the reluctant hero who is hanging on the rule of adults long gone, but who is forced to take a leadership role. I sense that there’s a real story here. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I’m not sure of: who is your audience? Is this book for adults or young adults? What authors would you compare yourself to? I also need to fall in love with our character a little more. Why do we want to root for him as a person—not just to find the cure? You’ve got room for at least a couple more sentences here and I’d use them.
David: I really like the idea of this book. Kind of a futuristic Lord of the Flies. Of course there is this idea that kids are beautiful innocent creatures, but if you’ve ever spent much time with them, you know that they can be an especially vicious group. I do feel like I get to know who this hero, and I am rooting for him by the end, which is a great thing. In this story, the stakes do seem really high. In a very concrete and visceral way. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I want to know more about the disease. I want to know more about the cast of characters. And again, I didn’t get a great villain to hate. We all want someone we can love to hate.
The Eye With Ten Tails by Christpher Corbett
The Eye With Ten Tails is an adventure story that evokes the rhythms and excitement of film, spinning both science fiction and fantasy into a satisfying, fast read. A quick, color-based viewpoint system replaces chapters, shifting the story across a diverse array of characters at breakneck pace. While the story is fast, it contains deep, philosophical concepts that more nuanced readers can sink their teeth into. Themes range from the nature of memories and nostalgia, to racism, to the concept of god, to the possibilities afforded by attaching infinity to an object. This combination gives the book the fun of a movie and the staying power of a science fiction classic.
The story itself readily exploits the conventions that readers are familiar with – Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are clear influences. However, every trope is given due attention and uniqueness that keeps things fresh. The base of operations for the main duo is an ordinary bank. The elderly mentor figure is a woman who gave up her celebrity centuries ago. The faction that takes over after the defeat of evil is rallied by a hard rock concert. This book is, if anything, memorable.
Arielle: Christopher, you tell us that your book “evokes the rhythms and excitement of film” is a “satisfying, fast read”, moves at a “breakneck pace”, “contains deep, philosophical concepts that more nuanced readers can sink their teeth into”, has “the fun of a movie and the staying power of a science fiction classic”, is “fresh” and is “if anything, memorable.” Sounds fantastic! WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOUR BOOK IS ABOUT!!! You give us three scant sentences about the book itself. And those sentences give me none of the things you promise. So…I would get rid of all the accolades and tell us what your book is about. If it’s everything you say it’s going to be, we’re gonna wanna read it!!!
David: You write well. You put together words nicely. And you give me confidence that you can pull off a book. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: For all you authors out there, don’t tell me your book is satisfying. Satisfy me with your pitch. Don’t tell me your book is funny, make me laugh. Don’t tell me your book is sad. Make me cry. You know those people who wear shirts that have “SEXY” written across them? Let me be the judge of that! Yes, Christopher, you’re doing yourself a disservice by telling us how great the book is. Wow us with your prose and plot-twisting skills instead.
Under the Same Star by Lisa Downing
Under the Same Star tells the story of three unlikely friends who share the same birthday: Julie, a lesbian feminist raised on a council estate by a prostitute mother; Natasha, a ruthlessly ambitious West-End actor in white-knuckled denial of the disease that is coursing through her body; and Ann, a comfortably middle-class, married solicitor, who can always be relied upon to do the right thing—until the day that she allows herself to be seduced by the man who, on their sixteenth birthday, raped Julie in the park after a school trip. Set in Sheffield and London, between 1986 and 2009, it also records the changing social and political climate of twentieth-century Britain. It offers an alternative to ‘chick lit’ for intelligent, politically aware readers who want a lively, engaging story, without the superficiality and internalized sexism of much literature aimed at women.
Lisa Downing is an internationally acclaimed, prize-winning academic author. She has written numerous books and articles on European literature and film, sexuality and gender, and the history of murder. She is currently a Professor at the University of Exeter and she lives in London. Under the Same Star is her debut novel.
Arielle: This pitch intrigues me. I see right away why Lisa is the person to write this book. And I’m interested in the characters and how their lives might intersect. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: Who is the audience for this book? Is it people who read Zadie Smith or Helen Fielding or someone else entirely? The writing of the pitch itself is solid, but it’s not so poetic that you have me convinced that this is going to be solidly literary, which you seem to imply.
David: I like how different and specific these characters are. I have a special fondness in my heart for lesbian feminists and prostitute mothers. But that probably reveals more about me than I would care for it too. And they’re in some sort of real crisis. Plus, I love that they have a birthday in common. I like that you stated your credentials in such a convincing fashion. And the central conflict seems so powerful and huge. I also enjoy a book that takes us to a specific time in history. NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I agree, you could use some Comp titles. I don’t really get a feeling for a beginning, a middle and an end. I don’t feel a satisfying climax at the end of this pitch.
Media Girls by Yu-Han Chao
“Media Girls” presents a contemporary Taiwanese Memoirs of a Geisha straight from the seedy underbelly of the Jia Yi City karaoke red light district.
Yo Ai Street, a three-block red light district in Jia Yi City, houses endless self-help karaoke joints. Here, young beauties like Pei Pei and her friends, the princesses of karaoke, trot to and fro in high heels and short skirts between their nightly gigs. They are Media Girls: freelance singers, entertainers, and dancers who accompany karaoke patrons for a fee. Their agents park nearby in chickenhead cars, hiring out the girls and monitoring their safety.
Microphone-enhanced off-key singing reverberates all along Yo Ai Street, accompanied by the usual sounds of laughter as well as more X-rated entertainment, but three women’s lives will change forever after a fellow Media Girl meets a violent death. Chien Chien, an aspiring musician, Ya Ya, an orphan sold into the sex trade, and Baby, an unwanted daughter from the countryside, soon realize that the Media Girl profession is more dangerous than they had hoped.
Arielle: This is a terrific pitch, with a fabulous setting and a nice duh, duh, duh…at the end. I also love the specificity of the language like “princesses of karaoke”, “chickenhead cars” and, of course, “media girls”. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: My one confusion is about Pei Pei. I thought she was our heroine, but then we hear nothing about her in paragraph two.
David: I too think it’s a fantastic pitch. In a very few words, it paints a picture of a surreal and spectacularly colorful world, filled with fantastic names, and great vernacular patois, like “chickenhead”. I also love the way you use sound in this pitch. The off key singing, the sounds of laughter. The stakes are very very high: violent death, orphans sold into the sex trade, unwanted daughters, and the lure of the glitter that comes with fast money but comes with a heavy price remind me of some of my favorite noir stories. But with a great original hook, the Media Girls. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: Yes, I also felt that we lost track of Pei Pei, and her hero’s journey. Again, this pitch didn’t have a beginning and a middle and an end.
Out of the Woods by Ben Ash and David Ash
Wes Parker is a smart, colorless eighth-grade geek who wants to be Stephen Spielberg. His dad wishes he was into sports, but his mom encourages his love of stories. When she is killed in a car accident, father and son, bearing grief and guilt, drift apart: Derek to work and Wes to his computer.
When clueless Derek finds a list that includes “daggers or knives?” and “kill father: when? how?” he fears the worst. But Wes is writing a fantasy novel in Pam’s honor. Woodland tells of Cral, a teenage lizard whose village is destroyed by a dark lord.
When Derek learns the truth, he is conflicted: is he Cral’s father or the dark lord? Wes has problems too. One friend gets an amazing girlfriend. His other friends have become characters in his book. Marsha, his girl-next-door editor, is turning his world upside down. All of it becomes fodder for his writing, but what is reality and what is fiction? Why did Wes have to fall in love now? Will our hero kill the dark lord or his own novel?
Ben Ash wrote the excerpted Woodland in middle school; father David Ash, the rest.
Arielle: There’s a lot to love here. Let’s start with the fact that the book is written by father and son, which is a great media hook. I also think the idea that Wes is writing a novel, but Derek doesn’t realize this, is a wonderful, psychologically rich premise. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: Where I start to get lost is at “One friend gets an amazing girlfriend.” I think this is extraneous to the pitch or you haven’t given it a reason to be there. I’m still wanting to hear about the father/son relationship. I think you can switch to Wes’ problems, but they need to all be centered around the idea of how the book and reality are getting confused. I also find the last sentence a bit anti-climactic.
David: I love the different layers, the story within the story, and the way one story plays off the other. And the blurring of art and real life, fiction and fact, are fascinating in this context. Plus, the father-son conflict has a kind of Shakespearean feel to it. I also enjoy the suspense of having the father think that his son wants to kill him. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: The introduction of Woodland seems very abrupt and confusing to me. I lose track of what Wes wants in this story. The pitch is very vague sometimes. What does it mean that Marsha is “turning his world upside down”? Why does it matter so much that his friend has an amazing girlfriend? I don’t understand why the choices are “kill the dark Lord or his own novel?” So I agree, the end does seem anti-climactic.
Unititled by Lily Elderkin
Anna is just sixteen when she learns the true meaning of charity by taking in a boy her age with some sort of mysterious past. Getting through junior year would have been hard enough, but with Tyler living secretly in her house, Anna loses control of every part of her life. Friendships begin to splinter; her parents’ marriage starts to disintegrate; the one thing she wanted becomes the one thing she’s terrified of. Oddly, Tyler is the only constant she has. She begins to forge a bond with the mystery man occupying her life, but things soon spiral out of check when emotions run too deep and secrets come spilling out. Tyler has undergone hell, but Anna has yet to know the worst of it. Just the average high schooler with a huge secret, Anna Baker’s life is about to become much more complicated.
Arielle: I like the idea of this novel a lot. The mysterious boy living secretly in our heroine’s house is a great setup. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I just wanted a little more detail and a little less generic description. Lots of YA novels we see are about getting through high school, parents getting divorced, and complicated friendships. So I want to know something singular to Anna regarding each of these things. I also thought the last clause could lead us on a little bit more. Is it just going to become more complicated?
David: There’s like so much drama and conflict here, and I like the fact that it’s just real people, with no vampires or werewolves. You put these characters in great peril, trying to keep a dark secret. Kids living together at that age. You capture the kind of manic quality of teenagers with hormones coursing through their veins. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: Too much vague language for my taste. I don’t understand exactly what kind of hell Tyler has gone through. How are things spinning out of check exactly? What emotions are running too high? You use the word “secret” too many times, without giving some kind of hint as to what the secrets are.
The Dark Circle by Graeme Smith
Since the fall of the fabled Cidan Empire, the continent of Karnaltan has known only war as countless petty kings and nobles quarrel endlessly over lands stained red with the blood of the common folk. In the great metropolis of Nochet City, six exceptional individuals—each belonging to a different race—are brought together by the murder of a mutual friend. They are Denvil, a wizard; Hurok, a healer; Slang, a savage; Black Flower Melody, an assassin; Querial, an archer; and Zorf, a mercenary. While attempting to avenge their friend’s death, they are alerted to the existence of an ancient cabal of manipulators and power-mongers called the Dark Circle, and are accused of murder and forced to flee for their lives. To survive, they must learn the nature of the Circle. Their quest takes them across the Sea of Sorrow, pursued by an immortal pirate to a remote island, and then to a troubled kingdom divided by intrigue, jealousy, and prejudice. Along the way, bonds of friendship and love are forged. In the end, one of the six will risk everything to end the threat of the Dark Circle, and bring peace to a land torn by a thousand years of war.
Arielle: I really like the idea of the six exceptional individuals each of a different race. I can see the movie poster! WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: This pitch has two main weaknesses for me. 1) I don’t know how to follow six characters and get to love them all—especially in a pitch. I’m not in any way convinced that this can be pulled off in a book unless the narrative really relies on one or two of them. If this is the case, then the pitch should do the same. In order to get around the problem of having six protagonists, you get very generic with lines like “along the way, bonds of friendship and love are forged” which doesn’t really tell me much of anything. 2) While there is original and interesting language in this pitch, there also seem to be a lot of clichés. “The Dark Circle”, “pursued by an immortal pirate to a remote island, and then to a troubled kingdom divided by intrigue, jealousy and prejudice” and “bring peace to a land torn by a thousand years of war” all seem like names or lines I’ve read before.
David: I love the language in this pitch, how creative the names are. It brings in a lot of rich traditions, such as betrayal, good vs. evil, and heroes from different cultures and banding together to fight for justice against seemingly insurmountable odds. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: Again, I would like to have one villain in particular to hate. I want to know more specifics about the Dark Circle. I agree, if there’s not something new and unique, it does seem like a cliché. And yes, how is your pirate different from all the other pirates? I want to know more about what’s unique and cool and special about this world also. And what is the actual action going on? Too much of it does seem talking about the action, rather than painting us great word pictures.
Russian Snows: Coming of Age in Napoleon’s Army by Scott Armstrong
In 1812, Napoleon launched his invasion of Russia with an army of 500,000 men. Only 20,000 survived the devastating campaign to return home. Russian Snows: Coming of Age in Napoleon’s Army is the story of the ill-fated invasion as witnessed by 13 year old Henri Carle. Attaching himself to the French army, Henri manages to stay close to his older brother during the buildup and march to Moscow. He ends up in the ranks after the army suffers devastating losses from disease, hunger and battle.
Henri is forced to use his wits, skills and quick thinking to survive. He draws on the lessons he has learned and his own inner strength as he experiences the horrors of battle, the heartbreaking agony of the wounded left behind and the death of those around him. Henri’s story is woven into actual events and incidents from the campaign in this ultimately uplifting adventure that paints a picture of what life was like for the common soldier.
Just in time for the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s invasion, this book will entertain and inform young adult readers. They will identify with Henri as he comes of age and takes on the responsibilities of a man.
Arielle: I think it’s a wonderful idea to portray life for an ordinary soldier in Napoleon’s war through the eyes of a 13-year-old. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I want some pictures painted from the point of view of this child to start off the pitch. The facts about the war can come last. I also want more specifics and fewer generalizations in terms of his wits, skills and thinking as well as his inner strength and experience in battle. One other note, YA stories based on major historical events can have an instant marketplace if these events are taught in schools. I don’t know if this is the case for Napoleon’s invasion, but it would be the first thing I would look up. If that’s the case, I’d end this pitch with, “Thousands of 8th graders every year learn about Napoleon’s Army…” Lastly, if you want to publish this book in 2012, you will probably have to do it yourself. Once you have a signed deal with a publisher and a finished book, it usually takes minimum of a year for the book to come out. To get a signed deal and to have your book edited could take another year or two. And I’ve completely left out finding and signing with an agent! So we’re talking 1-3 years to get this published with a major publish via the traditional route.
David: I know a number of school teachers, and they all complain about how they don’t have enough books that engage kids, while at the same time teaching history. This is a fascinating story about one of the most amazing characters, events and time periods in history, told from a very unique vantage point. Like To Kill a Mockingbird, plugging into a turning point in the world. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I agree with Arielle, too much telling and not enough showing. I don’t get a sense of the real action involved here. I want to know more about the relationship between this boy and his brother. And yes, you do have to hurry if you want to get this in bookstores for your deadline.
Untitled by Taryn Albright
Seventeen-year-old Lottie Maverick wants to give up the sport which sucked away her time–too bad swimming’s the only thing that can save her missing sister. It’s been fifteen empty months since Heidi disappeared, and now some criminal gives Lottie an ultimatum: make the Olympic team one year from now, and he’ll set Heidi free.
Determined to face a year of disapproving parents, watching eyes, and jealous teammates, Lottie returns to the pool. And just as she thinks she’s on track, she discovers a devastating secret about the only thing that seems to be going right in her life: her new boyfriend may know more than he’s letting on about Heidi’s kidnapping.
Yet that can’t matter because Lottie still has to suck it up and beat that clock (not to mention 99.99% of the swimmers in the US) if she ever wants to see her sister again.
Arielle: Great pitch! I love the first line because I’m equally I interested in Lottie’s relationship to swimming and her missing sister. I also think the backdrop of the world of swimming is a great place to set a novel. First of all, you’ve got a core audience of young adult swimmers who will devour the book. But it also immediately sets the stage. We all know what the school pool is like, but we don’t all know what high-powered kid swimmers go through. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I might like a little more specificity in the second paragraph. Instead of just telling us about her disapproving parents, watching eyes and jealous teammates, I might want to hear about her parents constant complaints about the cut of her swimsuits, the eyes of her fans who only like her when she wins and her jealous teammates who only like her when she loses. It’ll paint a little more of the picture. Then you come back with a bang in the last paragraph. Boy, do I wanna know what happens!
David: I like the way you make the consequences so clear and the stakes so high in this story. And yes, the pitch starts with a real grabber. I really enjoy the idea of following this girl as she tries to be the best of the best, with the added pressure of knowing that if he doesn’t succeed, her sister will die. Also, you do make me want to know how this turns out, which is one of the best things you can do in a pinch. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I want to see the tension build more and more with the meets that led up to the Olympics, the Nationals, the endless training, the bone weary exhaustion, pushing herself harder and harder, obsessed with the vision of what will happen if she doesn’t succeed, not just with the disappointment of her friends and parents, but with the various horrible ways her sister may die. I want to know more about the boyfriend and the weird suspicions. It’s too vague now.
Now I See by Natascia Z.P
In a small town beneath the magnificent Canadian Rockies lives a beautiful teenage girl named Mira. Mira is not the average teen though; she has been born without the ability to see. Enduring the family, friend and lifestyle challenges that come with being blind, Mira is in the midst of a crossroads in her life when her life ends with unexpected agony. Rebelling in the afterlife at the unfairness of her accidental death, she is miraculously given a second chance to live her life for one more year in a different physical body that has working eyes. Her experiences in that year are profoundly simple, and yet teach everything that truly matters to humanity. She relays the first time she is able to see the sky, the first time seeing trees move in the wind, and for the first time viewing the faces of those closest to her. This tale travels with Mira on her miraculous journey into wonder, beauty, pain and a love of life that stems from watching it all fall away.
Arielle: What a beautiful and timeless idea for a book! I love this idea of rebellion in the afterlife, the result of which is being given the chance to come back in a different body. So cool! WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I would delete the sentence that starts, “Her experiences in that year…”—it’s too generic for me. And I would add a sentence that gives us a sense of the plot after she can see.
David: This story combines a wonderful heroine, a great place in the world, and the supernatural premise. It is familiar, but utterly unique. Which is just what publishers are looking for. I do root for her to succeed. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I don’t understand what the “miraculous journey to wonder, beauty, pain and love of life” actually means. Too general. Same with the family, friends and lifestyle challenges. What are some concrete examples of these things? And the way you describe how she sees things for the first time seems devalued by the use of the word “relays”. I think you can come up with a better word that describes the excitement of this.
Pendowski Park by JC Menapace
The coming of age of one-eyed, black eyepatch- wearing Stanley “The Torch” Pendowski who is a sensitive guy looking for answers and experience. An emotional loss of his high school heartthrob, Jackie Sanduski, causes him to leave Gum Town, Pennsylvania, to seek his fortune in Manhattan but with difficulty. Following several disastrous love affairs replete with hilarious sexual hi-jinks he returns to his hometown area as a patent lawyer and recluse living along with seven dogs and thirteen cats in an eighteen by twelve foot trailer in back of an amusement park. After several more zany love affairs, while growing in wisdom, it is only after a visit from his pal and the narrator of this story, Joey Bonomoni (a professional comedian), that we learn this talented and gifted would-be composer has been alone with his fantasies brought-on by an accident that blinded his right eye followed by the loss of his deceased sweetheart. With his end looming on the horizon, Pendowski comes to terms with his life. A humorous story, the readership targeted is that of women interested in personal relationships and especially in a loveable male character fumbling them.
Arielle: I would love to read about a series of love affairs that take place in a trailer with seven dogs and thirteen cats! You’ve got a great setting here and it appears you’re really going to play around with the humor and pathos of this situation. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: If this book is narrated by a professional comedian, it’s gotta make me laugh! While you tell me the story has “hilarious sexual hi-jinks” and is “humorous”, the story you describe actually sounds sad. I also get confused after Joey’s visit. I find out for the first time that Stanley is a gifted composer and also that his end is near. These both come out of left field. Lastly, I don’t see this as women’s fiction. I’m not sure who the audience is. I definitely need some comparison titles to get a sense of the audience you’re after.
David: A young, troubled, flawed hero with a dark troubled past who goes to the big city seeking his fame and fortune has been a staple of storytelling for hundreds of years. And you seem to have a fresh take on this, with funny interesting names, and a great location, filled with a menagerie of animals. And lots of surprises, like the fact that “The Torch” is actually a talented composer. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I couldn’t agree more with Arielle, you tell me how funny the stuff is, but you didn’t make me laugh. You tell me about wisdom, but I don’t seem any actual wisdom here. You tell me about hilarious sexual hijinks, but you don’t give me any. And why is his end looming on the horizon? Plus, he doesn’t really seem that lovable to me in the end.
Linked by Alex G. Zarate
There are places that few people ever see and fewer know exist.
These places exist between gaps.
These gaps are everywhere.
Between events and memories.
Between family and friends.
Between life and death.
Those who are able to see the gaps can do things that would otherwise be inexplicable. They can see where the gaps are joined, and in the seeing, move between them…
Arielle: This is a cool, poetic, slightly mysterious pitch. I want to know what these gaps are! Who can see them! Who can move between them! WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: To me, this is just the start of a pitch. It’s only 64 words—that leaves you with another 136 to work with. We have no idea who our hero is. We don’t know what the plot is. We don’t know what other writers/books Linked is similar to.
David: There is an existential, Buddhist, surrealist, and otherworldly quality to this pitch that I find very attractive. It makes me want to know more. It makes me think you are a good writer. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I have absolutely no idea what this book is. What other books is it like? Who would buy it? Who would read it? Doesn’t have characters? What are the conflicts? What is the story?
Behind The Mask by Genesis Zendejas
The story contains a psychoanalysis of a typical superhero in therapy. His name is C-Van, and he is as average a superhero as you can get. After an accident that he can’t recall, the city orders him to become a normal citizen. He follows through with being diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, and he has to go through various therapeaudic and phychoanalysis tests. With a funny and interesting cast including his sidekick answering machine H.Earme, his intensely personal archvillain F.Ail, and his crazy therapist Serebelli, it is an interesting story and a fast read. And things get even more hectic as a cast of entirely original characters such as Magenta-Orange, R.Mortis, and Neurosis come into play. C-Van’s long-lost sister comes up with purple hair, and as things get wackier, the anaylsis gets more personal and coming closer to home. Will C-Van learn the truth about the accident that everyone is so desperate to hide from him? Will his girlfriend Annie get over her fear of being the damsel in distress? Is the grape soda REALLY necessary? All this and more in a new and fresh way to look at…the average? superhero.
Arielle: A superhero with PTSD—how fun! And it somehow makes perfect sense. Your elevator pitch is clear: The Sopranos meets The Incredibles! WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: 1) “funny and interesting cast” doesn’t really do anything for me because I can’t get to know all these people in a pitch. 2) This is obviously an “interesting” story, so leave that description out. 3) Don’t tell us the book is a fast read, make us believe this through the pitch. 4) Get rid of the sister’s appearance unless it is a major plot point. If it’s the latter let us know what this plot-point is. 5) I have no idea who the readers of this book would be. People who loved reading comic books as a kid but are all grown up?
David: I too think this is a clever amalgamation of influences, put together in a surprising, interesting and unique fashion. I love some of the questions at the end, like: “Is the grape soda REALLY necessary?” The dark secrets, the accident he can’t remember. Seems mysterious and dangerous. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: It starts off very flat for my taste. I want action. The story seems disjointed, I don’t understand how the psychoanalysis fits in with the rest of the plot. I don’t really like the names of the characters. They don’t feel funny or original enough. And there are too many wasted words. A pitch is like a poem. Every word counts. And I want to know what the superheros’ special skills are. What distinguishes them and makes them cool and fascinating and different from all the other superheroes I’ve read about?
Blessed Ashes by Judy Steele
“Blessed Ashes” is a “cozy” mystery about female Private Investigator (PI) Scott Steele, and her dog and quirky friends and neighbors. In the opening scene, Scott is run over by the murderer she is hunting, and her beloved one-eyed dog, Jack, is killed when he throws himself in front of the car to try to save her life. Scott wakes up in the hospital after coming out of a coma, in major pain with substantial damage to her left side. The story of the case, her life story, and that of her friends and neighbors is discussed as she lies in bed in the hospital. Once she gets to go home you meet her neighbors, her fireman boyfriend, Rusty, and learn more information about the case. Scott continues her investigation and events occur which lead to the resolution of the murder, with help from another heroic dog.
The novel includes a lot of funny stories about Jack, a very comical dog who was constantly getting into trouble. While Scott mourns her dog, the stories about Jack and Scott’s quirky friends and neighbors lift the spirit of the book and make it very entertaining to read.
Arielle: What a dramatic opener—a PI is run over by the murderer she is hunting and her beloved dog is killed! And it’s a great idea to have another dog come into the story to help solve the mystery. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I would start the pitch with something like: “Scott Steele, PI, is on the heels of capturing the murderer she is hunting, when he deals her two major blows: he runs her over leaving her paralyzed on one side, and even worse, he kills her beloved one-eyed dog, Jack, who runs in front of the killer’s car to try to save Scott’s life.” From there, we need a better sense of the plot. Is she just in the hospital briefly? When does the hunt for the killer start up again? You can fill all this in because you can lose the last paragraph which feels more like a book report than a pitch.
David: I like the main character, and I love her little one-eyed dog. Plus, as Arielle said, the idea that another dog is instrumental in helping our heroine. And you certainly put the character in some dramatic, life-threatening situations. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: Yes, I would get right to the action. Save the categorization for the end of the pitch. I also don’t really get a sense for why her neighbors are so interesting. What kind of crazy adventures the dog gets us into. And who’s the villain in this story? Where is the bad guy? What’s interesting and unique about the fireman and his relationship with our heroine? Mostly, I really don’t get a sense of the beginning, middle and end of the mystery.
Waiting for Ethan by Diane Barnes
Genre: Women’s fiction/Chicklit
In the summer of 1987, 13-year-old Gina Rossi and her best friend Neesha Patel spend their days spying on Neesha’s grandmother, Ajee, as she reads fortunes for lonely, gullible women. That same summer, Ajee leads police to a missing boy and her business takes off. To stop Neesha and Gina from spying, Ajee agrees to make three predictions for each girl. Within one year, two of three predictions come true for each of them. The third predictions are about their adult lives. Ajee predicts Neesha will buy her childhood home and Gina will marry a man named Ethan.
In 2010, 36-year-old Gina is still single and Neesha lives in a state far from her childhood home. Just when Gina starts to wonder if she is as gullible as the women she used to spy on, she meets a man named Ethan and convinces herself that he is the man Ajee was talking about all those years ago. But can Ethan live up to the man Gina has been fantasizing about for almost 25 years?
Waiting for Ethan is a love story but it’s also a novel about how hard it is to let go of beliefs you’ve held since childhood.
Arielle: Wonderful, goosebump-inducing pitch! You’ve created a setup that’s so perfect, it would be nearly impossible not to want to turn the pages to find out what happens. I love the title and I want to see the movie! WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: I’m not sure where this is set, exactly. And I’m not sure how much of the plot takes places in 1987 and how much in 2010. Lastly, I’d love to know a couple comp titles to know who in the world of women’s fiction you’d compare yourself to.
David: I love the supernatural quality of this pitch. And the idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Plus, the notion that these girls judge these silly old women who get their fortunes read, and then wonder if they are becoming the thing they mock, is a very potent one. WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: You seem to follow the arc of Gina, but not Neesha, and that seems odd to me. The very last line seems a little cliché and obvious to me. And yes, I agree that it would be great to let us know where this book fits into the bookstore exactly. Plus, I want to know more about who these characters really are. I want to know them well enough to care about them.