Infraction by Yvonne Zipter
While Marya Iuryevna Zhukova struggles for women’s rights alongside other nineteenth-century Russian women, unlike most, she has a passion for mathematics and, fatefully, shares a home with both her husband and her female lover. Marya, the fictional counterpart to the true-life subject of a nineteenth-century gynecologist’s case study, provides the fiery center to a small solar system of point-of-view characters, each of whom depends on her in some way to shed light on their own lives. There is her aunt Lidia, a spinster who, dying of consumption, exacts from her niece a promise to marry. There is Grigorii Aleksandrovich, Marya’s one-time math teacher, who longs for his former pupil to achieve the kind of scholarly glory of which he is incapable. There is Vera Lvovna, a young tutor surprised to find she is falling in love with another woman. And finally, there is Sergei Petrovich, an earnest librarian at the Imperial Library captivated by Marya’s intellect and unorthodox beauty and willing to do whatever it takes to be near her, even if this means a platonic marriage. Ultimately, however, Sergei is besieged by a growing ardor for Marya and anguished by the conflict between the promise he made and his own desires. St. Petersburg of the 1870s is the rich backdrop to these troubled lives.
Infraction was extensively researched, including a stint in St. Petersburg itself. Yvonne Zipter is the author of Diamonds Are a Dyke’s Best Friend, Ransacking the Closet, The Patience of Metal, and Like Some Bookie God.
The Book Doctors: This is such a great subject for a book. It promises to not only tell us a juicy story about a remarkable woman in a time when it was very difficult to be a remarkable woman, but it also tells us it’s going to show us a world, a slice of history, that is so foreign from ours, and yet illuminates in some ways how we got to be who we are. And our heroine seems like such a fascinating character. I also really enjoyed the structure; we get to know our main character through all these other people, who see her as a vessel for fulfilling their own dreams and desires. It reminds me of modern day Chekov, with perhaps a healthy dollop of Olive Kitteridge thrown in. And I love the setting, St. Petersburg in the 1870s, but I would like to see how you are going to paint us word pictures of this time and place. Your pitch is your audition to show us your skills as a prose stylist. Just telling us that it’s a rich backdrop doesn’t really let me know that you’re capable of weaving gorgeous word pictures that make this time in history come to life. This pitch sometimes relies too much on ideas and not enough on character and action. The very first sentence seems quite didactic for a novel. Struggling for women’s rights is a concept, as opposed to showing her being denied her rights, being put into a box because she’s a woman and not being able to fulfill her desires and reach her potential. And our main character seems a bit absent. I have no idea really who she is, what she wants, what she desires. I don’t fall in love with her really. Even though everyone else in the book seems to. I’m not sure what goal I’m rooting for her to reach. And some of the language seems too stiff and formal. For instance, “a growing ardor.” Telling us that is different than showing us an action where he’s trying to express his spiritual and/or physical love for her. You know exactly what “unorthodox beauty” is. Show it to me. But I think this subject matter will be of great interest to lots of readers.
A Little Space to Fill by Kerry Gretchen & Jill Cammack
I shouldn’t be doing this, she thought, leaning up on her elbows to look at him. He grinned and grabbed the edge of her panties with his teeth, then slowly pulled them down.
Beth Grant, at the prodding of her best friend, Jenna, has embarked on a “Year of Yes.” Jenna thinks Beth’s only identity is teaching college, so this year she’s determined to prove her wrong by saying “yes” to new things. In that spirit, she hits on a cute guy at the gas station and her life is changed in ways she could never imagine.
Unbeknownst to her, that guy was Todd Allman, the sexy, young star of the He-Man movie franchise. Beth may be the only person in Los Angeles who doesn’t care a thing about Hollywood, so when Todd enrolls in her class a month later, she doesn’t recognize him as a movie star or the guy from the gas station. Then when he starts to pursue her outside of class, she’s confused and annoyed. After all, she’s no typical leading lady and she’s nearly ten years his senior. Plus he’s her student! But even Beth can’t resist Todd’s charm and she can no longer deny they have a connection. Now she’s forced to choose between her reputation and job or her heart. But will Todd’s motives for taking her class make her regret her choice?
A Little Space to Fill is 96,000 words.
The Book Doctors: What a fun idea for a romantic comedy. This could absolutely be a Katherine Heigl movie. I love how you start with an actual piece of the book. It really gives me some proof of your pudding. Interestingly, it’s kind of sexually charged. I feel a bit of a disconnect between this piece of writing and the rest of the pitch, because after her initial seduction of Todd, there doesn’t seem to be that much erotic activity to your story. And I don’t feel like the whole idea of The Year of Yes gets followed all the way through the story. It’s not clear at the beginning of the story that she wants to fall in love, or doesn’t want to fall in love, or she wants a husband or a family or any of that stuff. It doesn’t seem like we’re rooting for her to succeed at finding a partner. Instead we’re rooting for her to say yes to life. So we want to see how she changes as a result of the Year of Yes. I love that he’s this hunky movie star in Los Angeles and she’s the only person in Southern California who doesn’t know who he is. That’s great. But are we rooting for them to get together? Or not? I understand that Todd is supposed to be something of an enigma. But I don’t understand why she falls for him. Telling us that he’s charming and sexy doesn’t really do the trick. Show us these things. It would be great if you showed us at the beginning what her life is like before the Year of Yes. Her friend Jenna doesn’t really seem to be a character in this story. So perhaps you could start with something like, “Beth Grant is tired of making tofu stir-fries for one on Friday night while binge-watching Girls on Netflix then reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover for the 47th time. So she decides to start a ‘Year of Yes’.” See how the specificity of that defines her as a human being whilst still giving us a sense of who she is? It doesn’t quite feel like the stakes are high enough at the end. Maybe you could give us more of what the worst-case scenario would be if everything goes wrong. The ending feels kind of flat. I would love some comparison titles.
All the Shades of Night by Jacque Summers
Mayleen, a blacksmith apprentice, must use her Earth Magic to discover who is poisoning the world’s dragons and stop them before the Four Kingdoms are thrown back into another bloody war.
Mayleen assembles an unlikely group, each who bear their own magic as well as pain: a queen whose loss has blinded her to the slow decay of her kingdom, a princess whose fear leaves her open to misuse, and an assassin whose tragic love leads her to kill her own brother.
When diplomacy fails, these four women have to come together, adapt, and learn to use their Earth Magic so that together they can break the poisoning spell cast on the dragons.
Each character has a complex relationship with the other members of the group. There are secrets that must be revealed if they are to overcome their deepest fears. Only then can they slay the caster who is poisoning and ultimately skinning dragons alive to gain world domination. But the true betrayal comes from the last person Mayleen expected.
This young adult fantasy mystery, set in an early iron-age society with a California-esque environment, has a balance of adventure, battle, travel, and love. In this world, no one is judged by their gender or sexual preference, they are judged by their courage.
I have won SCBWI manuscript awards and sold short stories and picture books for the last ten years. My Bachelors Degree in Creative Writing focusing on Fiction will be completed this August.
The Book Doctors: I’m a sucker for books with strong female characters. Apparently, so is the rest of the world. So you’re definitely barking up the right tree here. This is a very professional pitch, very well done, with lots of information in it. I love how you define the world you are creating for us: “an early iron-age society with a California-esque environment.” I would like you to support that with a few word pictures. Show us that you’re capable of painting beautiful and realistic tableaux as you make this world come to life. I also really like the fact that our heroine is a blacksmith apprentice. It would be great to give tiny little physical descriptors to your main characters. I imagine our heroine has big arms and shoulders and is definitely not afraid of getting dirty. I also really like that in your world, no one is judged by their gender or sexual preference, but rather by their courage. Would that we lived in a world like that! I don’t quite understand a couple of things though. You use the term “Earth Magic” a couple of times. You know exactly what that means. How is your magic different than the magic I’ve seen in approximately 1 million other stories? I don’t really get a sense of the villain. I know you have limited time, but it would be great to have a bad seed at the center of your story whom we love to hate. And I don’t think the end of your pitch is dramatic enough(the fact that true betrayal comes from the last person our heroine expected). You have us invested in this plucky band of misfits stopping the dragons from being poisoned and saving the world, but what happens if they fail? I believe that’s what you should leave us with.
The Girl Who Won the Revolutionary War by Libby McNamee
It’s May 1781, and Patriots are on the verge of losing the war. Only French support is keeping their cause alive. My YA novel, “The Girl Who Won the Revolutionary War,” tells the true story of 16-year-old Susanna Bolling of Virginia and her midnight ride that helped turn the tide of the American Revolution. Think “Johnny Tremain” as a girl (without a burnt hand.)
When General Cornwallis arrived with his army of Lobsterbacks at her family’s plantation on the Appomattox River to quarter, Susanna overheard their plans to capture the French General Marquis de Lafayette the next morning. This would be a crippling, if not deadly, blow to the American cause.
Someone needed to alert General Lafayette, and she decided that person was herself. This freckled girl with emerald green eyes was soon to have the adventure of her life – sneaking out alone at midnight through a secret tunnel, crossing the river in the pitch dark, and then riding a horse for miles. The stakes could not have been higher – the future of the Colonies was in the balance, and it all rested on her.
But could she really find Lafayette, warn him, and make it home before the sun came up?
The Book Doctors: What a great idea for a book! We hear all the time from teachers that they are dying for novels with exciting characters that take kids back in time and make history come alive. If this book is done correctly, it could sell in schools for years. And you present your ideas very clearly. But right now this feels too much like a book report and not enough like a crazy exciting yarn with lots of death-defying action. And there’s not enough world-building in your pitch. We need you to show us this exotic world you’re taking us to with word pictures. That’s part of the joy of a book like this. And we need to know that you’re capable of creating this world that is so familiar because of our national folklore, and yet so exotic because it is so utterly different from our own. I’d also like more of an idea of who this girl is. Apart from the freckles and emerald green eyes, what does she look like? What are her dreams and desires in life? Is she timid or bold, frilly/girly or a tomboy? Why does she feel compelled to take her life into her hands? And you don’t give us enough concrete action. It all seems kind of generic: Sneaking out alone at midnight. A secret tunnel. A river in the dark. Riding a horse for miles. You tell us that the stakes are high, and I understand that from a macro perspective. But you don’t make me feel it. If she doesn’t succeed, what will the consequences be? And from a micro perspective, what specific dangers does she meet on her midnight ride? She has to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, doesn’t she? Just asking the question you ask at the end of the pitch doesn’t make this pitch build to a roaring crescendo.
American Panda by Gloria Chao
Mei’s refusal to stick herself with needles makes her the crazy one in her traditional Taiwanese family. She tries to be the obedient daughter, but her mother’s comments about Mei’s expiring ovaries and unladlylike eating habits are harder to stomach than fermented tofu. Good thing her parents don’t understand sarcasm.
Despite her mumbled comebacks, Mei’s life is on her parents’ predetermined track: she’s a senior at MIT, her medical school applications are in (even though she’s germophobic), and she no longer speaks to her brother, who her parents disowned for dating a reproductively-challenged woman. Ahem, ex-brother.
Thanks to a mysterious rash, Mei meets Dr. Tina Chang—the awkward, perpetually hunched, future version of herself. Tina’s unhappiness in her career and willingness to shun her homosexual brother “for the ancestors” make Mei question who she is.
The more she finds herself, the further she moves from her parents’ traditions. Rejecting all the sons of her mom’s friends, she pursues her crush even though he’s not a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer. When she musters the courage to tell her parents she’s not sure about medical school, they disown her, obviously—the only thing to do with a rogue child.
Mei faces a decision: sacrifice a piece of herself to repair her relationship with her parents or live the life she wants—but without family.
AMERICAN PANDA is MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING meets Amy Tan. AMERICAN PANDA is a 60,000 word, NA multicultural contemporary novel based on my experiences as a second-generation Taiwanese-American.
The Book Doctors: I love the way this pitch starts. Because our heroine isn’t sticking herself with needles, she’s the crazy one. Immediately we see the sense of humor of the author shining through. We see that this story is going to be about a clash of cultures. Old world versus new millennium. And at a time when publishers are desperately seeking diverse books, the subject matter is right on time. I also like how this pitch shows us all these things without telling us. Expiring ovaries, fermented tofu. Parents who don’t even understand her sarcasm. It’s all very specific and real. God and the devil are both in the details. Through the specific we find the universal. And there are so many funny little asides in this pitch, like the fact that she’s going to medical school and she’s germophobic. And I really like the fact that she sees herself, or rather an older version of herself, when she meets Dr. Tina Chang. And I adore the comparable titles. Plus the title itself, American Panda, is so good. I would like there to be a little more understanding of what it means for this character to be shunned by her family. What are the consequences if they disown her? Culturally I know this means a different thing for a Taiwanese family than it does for an Episcopalian family. My family shunned me, and it was shocking how little I missed talking to them. It was a little sad, but I just went on with my life. I want you to let us know specifically how this is going to bring misery down upon her. It also might be fun to list the names of all the people, or three of the people, that her mom sets her up with that she rejects. And maybe a little bit about her crush. But all in all, an absolutely lovely pitch.
Two Voices by Kenneth Hursh
Spasmodic dysphonia is Janet Campbell’s defense to first degree murder. The DA’s case relies on motive and the theory Janet does not have a real disease. Spasmodic dysphonia is a real disease, but sometimes it goes in remission, like during a murder trial.
Two Voices is a legal thriller about a young woman who cannot speak. Vocal chord paralysis has left Janet destitute and hopeless, until she hits a big jackpot at the local Indian casino. But the money is stolen, and Janet is accused of killing her ex-husband, whom she thinks orchestrated the robbery.
If Janet really cannot speak, she could not have been the person arguing with her ex-husband the night he was killed. Her lawyer believes her and is determined to win Janet’s acquittal from a politically motivated prosecution. So when Janet regains her voice during the trial, she can’t tell anyone, even though having her voice back is her dream come true. Remaining silent is driving Janet crazy. She has to tell someone, and the decision will either be her ruin her salvation.
The Book Doctors: This book has such a cool hook. Spasmodic dysphonia. I’ve never even heard of that. And I like how you give us just enough time to wonder what the heck it is before you define it for us. It’s also very cool how the whole case hinges on whether she is fabricating this disease, on whether she can talk. And it’s great that she gets her voice back but then can’t talk. This kind of feels like a Hitchcock movie. And that’s high praise indeed. I would like to know more about Janet. What she looks like. What kind of relationship she had with her ex-husband. What she ultimately wants in life, besides getting her voice back and recovering her millions and not being found guilty of murder. Those are all immediate things that we’re rooting for. But it would also be great to have more information about what she wants as we go higher up the Pyramid of Desire, from basic survival to the personal actualization. I also feel like your description of the murder and robbery is very flat. You have to show us in your pitch that you’re capable of describing action in a way that chills us and thrills us and sends a shiver down our spines. I don’t think your title is quite there yet. Two Voices: it doesn’t seem as exciting as your story. Dysphonia could be a really cool title! I guess it’s kind of troubling that there are basically no other people in this pitch besides Janet. Her lawyer is briefly mentioned, as is her dead husband, but doesn’t she have any relationships with other human beings? I do think if this book is executed correctly, there is an audience waiting for it out there.
The Plan by Cheryl Miller-Fitzgerald
Thinking back, there was nothing to distinguish that Sunday from any other Sunday. Matt and Josh sat on the floor of their room plotting how to quit Hebrew school so they could play video games while their mom made pancakes and their grandma read the newspaper.
Born a minute apart, the eleven year old twins never agreed on anything, not ice cream (cotton candy vs. chocolate) superheroes (Spiderman vs. the Hulk) or even sports (soccer vs. basketball.) Until now, and after weeks of strategizing, were sure their plan was flawless: to feign stomach aches and whine in unison until their mom had no choice but to give in.
But their plan backfired when she exploded and banished them outside, indefinitely. Instead of stepping onto their suburban New Jersey lawn, they found themselves in a Bronx courtyard in the 50s, where the only technology was a 20 inch black and white television and an AM radio.
Dodging children who were actually playing outside, they had to navigate a world that was different (no Wi-Fi!) and yet the same (bullies, prejudice), and figure out how to get home – without a GPS. Just when they were ready to give up, they met a girl who was even more conniving than them, and who just might be…Grandma?
A cross between Back to the Future and the Magic Tree House, this book should appeal to middle school readers. I am a journalist and parent to twins who play too many video games.
The Book Doctors: This pitch has a lot going for it: fish-out-of-water twins suddenly deprived of technology, how much things have changed and yet how little, and a great elevator pitch, Back to the Future meets Magic Tree House. I also like the sentence you use to describe yourself. It’s fun and self-deprecating, but at the same time, it shows us you actually have special insight into twins and that you have the skills of a journalist. I don’t think the pitch starts with enough of a bang. I know it’s supposed to show us that this is just another day in the life, but it might be good to incorporate some suspense into that first line. “Matt and Josh thought it would be just another Sunday spent plotting how to quit Hebrew school and play unlimited video games, little did they know they’d end up [some specific ‘50s image from the book] in the year 1954.”
The problem is, I don’t really fall in love with these kids. I don’t understand what they desperately want that they don’t have. I’m not rooting for them to succeed at something, besides leaving the ‘50s and getting back home without a GPS. And really what you have here is the setup for a story. One of the difficulties about pitching a story like this is that there’re so many stories about time travel. It is very well mined territory. We have to understand what’s different and unique about your time travel story. What are you bringing to the party we’ve never seen before? Frankly, seeing grandma when she was a kid seems very derivative of Back to the Future. Think about how great the plot to that movie is. We don’t get any sense of what events in your story are going to lead to a crazy climax that will have us telling all our friends about how great this book is. Throwing around ideas like “bullies” and “prejudice” is a classic example of Telling versus Showing. How are your versions of bullying and prejudice different and unique and scary and gripping? How are you spinning this familiar scenario in a way that we’ve never seen before?
The Door to Yesterday by Katherine Parker Richmond
I’m Amelia. The year I turned fifteen sucked. Turns out losing our house in Seattle and having to move to Grandpa Gus’ ranch in Ellensburg was only the beginning.
The second week at my new high school, I got pranked by Darcy Malinger. When I refused to let her copy my paper on The Crucible for our honors English class, she switched my conditioner with hair remover during P.E. My hair came out in big clumps, all over the floor of the girls’ locker room. Since then, my mom is homeschooling me—which might as well be death by boredom, chained to the kitchen table all day.
I thought my life would never get better, until I discovered a way to go back and change it. Now I hold the key to the door to yesterday.
Complete at 69,000 words, THE DOOR TO YESTERDAY is a fresh take on the Mel’s Hole urban legend. It stands alone as a YA with strong series potential.
About the author: Katherine has been losing herself in books since second grade, when Mrs. Crawford gave her detention for reading clear through the Pledge of Allegiance. That same year, she started a journal filled with poetry, short stories, and the harrowing confessions of a frizzy-haired word-nerd who’d rather squint at life than wear glasses. More recently, her poems have appeared in the Boston Literary Magazine, Segullah, and Everyday Poets. THE DOOR TO YESTERDAY is her first novel.
The Book Doctors: This pitch has a great voice. It’s fun. Describing homeschooling as “death by boredom” is great. It convinces me you are a writer who can write the heck out of this book. And the subject matter is familiar, but it feels like you’ve made it your own. I like the prank, but it feels like it needs a punch line. Something like: “So I had to walk around looking like a hairless Chihuahua.” But there’s not enough here. What’s so cool about your way of going back and changing history? As you see from looking at these pitches, time travel stories are a dime a dozen. What are the fun and unexpected things that happen? What nutty danger is our plucky heroine going to get herself into? What books is this one like? There’s just not enough of a story here for me to invest in yet. I’m sure you have the goods; you just need to show them to me.
The Love Test by Leah Collum
When it comes to love, how do you know when it’s real?
U.S. Immigration Officer Sarah Wright has been trained to separate the true love matches from the pretenders in her job interviewing marriage-based green card applicants, but a chance encounter with a handsome Greek man, Nikos, leaves her questioning her own judgment when it comes to the laws of attraction.
Nikos Hydras is on the verge of getting his green card and starting a new life in the U.S., but one spontaneous kiss with Sarah threatens to destroy his best-laid plans when she is assigned to his pending immigration case.
Elizabeth Whitehall only wanted to help her best friend, Nikos, open the door to a better life . . . until his ill-timed flirtation with his immigration officer threatens to put Elizabeth’s own freedom at risk.
Now, as Sarah investigates Nikos and Elizabeth’s hastily arranged marriage, she uncovers more and more evidence of green card fraud. Torn between professional duty and personal attraction, Sarah must walk a fine line between keeping the bad guys out and letting the good guys in, where one misstep could cost her her career—or her heart.
At its core, THE LOVE TEST is a love story, but, like Taylor Jenkins Reid’s AFTER I DO, it is about more than romantic love: it also explores the strength of female friendships, the depth of family bonds, and, above all, what values remain when our most deeply held beliefs are stretched to the breaking point.
The Book Doctors: I like this story. Again, it feels familiar, but it’s also unique. And I love that the plot hinges on an ill-timed kiss that ignites the romance but, at the same time, makes this terrible moral quandary that could ruin many lives. It’s nicely done. And the pitch is very professional. It lays out the story quickly and economically, and you also give us a really good comparable title. I really enjoy how this woman has been trained to separate true love from marriages of convenience. It’s such a great profession to explore when you’re writing a book about human love. And I like how you turn phrases, like “the laws of attraction.” But I don’t understand when you say this is a story of female friendships. It doesn’t seem like Sarah and Elizabeth are friends. This is a classic love triangle, and I don’t see another female friendship here. I’d like to know a little bit more about the attraction between Nikos and Sarah. Show us more of a scene where they can’t resist each other even though they know they have to. Maybe just flesh out the kiss more. No pun intended.
The Perfect Obit by Tammie McElligott
Jo Reinhardt thinks if her obituary was written today, that hers would read as exciting as the grocery list that is at the bottom of her purse wrapped around a wad of chewed up gum. She never worried before about what the folks in town would read about her until it dawns on her that the dirty deed of writing her obit would fall to her family and the thought of that makes it hard to breath, the squirts of nose spray can only do so much. She could see it now, if left to her almost grown children, they would enter her first name as Mom followed with - she yelled a lot. And if she were to go before her husband, he would use it as an ad to showcase his band “The Retro-Reruns”. Feeling that the obits in Lakemore, Michigan’s paper should tell the world more than the fact that one has passed away, gone to sleep, isn’t with us anymore, died, croaked, she sets out to write the perfect obit. Dragging family and friends on her quest to live up to the perfect obit, Jo discovers it just might kill her.
The Book Doctors: This is such a fun idea, a great shaggy dog story. It has something of Mark Twain in it: a person who’s planning their own death and in doing so learns how to be alive. I love that the pitch shows, through obituary, how each important person in her life actually sees her. I love the specificity of her husband’s band “The Retro-Reruns.” Details like this really make a story come alive. I was trained as a Hollywood screenwriter first. The Hollywood screenplay structure has three acts. You only have one act here for your story; you’re missing Act II and Act III. I need to know what crazy shenanigans are heroine pulls in order to ensure that she gets a great obituary. It’s such a wonderfully absurd idea, but you don’t let me know what you’re going to do with it. You don’t amaze and delight me with the wild series of events that this ridiculous woman gets herself into and how it all escalates to a crazy Wham Bam finale.