Pitch Critiques Round 17

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jan 11 2008

What have I done to myself? I apologize if these are getting tedious, but I feel the need to get to everyone’s now. It’s only fair. I only ask that you, the readers, and especially those of you who received a critique, continue to hang in there and voice your own opinions. And if you’ve rewritten, don’t be afraid to post and hear what others say. I think they’ll be happy to help. Here’s the original post: Perfecting Your Pitch.

96. anon 3:59
A heterosexual teenager in an all boy’s school faces a moral meltdown when he becomes attracted to a classmate only to later discover the classmate is a girl masquerading while she hides out from killers.

Okay, folks, help me out here, but hasn’t this been done in more than one movie? It sounds like a movie I remember seeing as a teen and a more recent one starring Amanda Bynes. Either way, I’m not sure the fact that a heterosexual boy thinks he’s having feelings for another boy only to discover it’s a girl is enough. At least not different enough. The hiding out from killers could work, but again, my concern is this sounds too familiar. Granted, I’m not an expert in YA, but that would be why I would reject it.

97. anon 4:01
She dates, she kills, she’s miserable.

Meet Livia, a five-foot-three contract killer whose boyfriend, Evan, has just left her for another woman. Hurt, confused and angry, Livia makes a go of continuing on in the life she made for herself. Which would be easier if her ex wasn’t her boss, too. Also not helping is James, her teacher of all things violent and partner. It’s James that gives her the rules to kill by and the ultimately the final push Livia needs to let Evan go, once and for all.

Your first line of your paragraph is really great. I love the idea of a heroine who is a contract killer and think that has potential to be really interesting. Your first pitch line, though, “She dates, she kills, she’s miserable,” doesn’t have the effect I think you want it to have. Most would say of course, especially since most think that both dating and killing are miserable jobs. My problem with your pitch is that you grab me with the fact that your heroine is a contract killer, but the rest sounds very ho-hum. Nothing special or cool, but just another average love story. And of course my bigger concern is that your book has the same problems.

98. Jess
Private Anna Lowry always made her father proud, so now she’ll do anything to fulfill his dying wish of ending the galatic war for independence, and that means traveling across the galaxy in search of an item that might not exist and battling her traitorous captain to get it. “The Delandar Tapestry” is complete at 80,000 words.

It doesn’t grab me. I think you have potential, but we need to dig a little deeper in the story to bring that potential out. Get to the heart of the battle and the travel. And tells us what she’s really looking for. The truth is that you aren’t really giving me any of her conflict.

99. Beth-etc
(One sentence)
The computer found Mr. Perfect; does it matter that she lied?

(Four sentences)
Rose is undercover for a travel magazine on the inaugural voyage of the CyberMatches Singles Cruise. She exaggerates the data on her computer survey so her CandiDates will be diverse. The computer pairs Rose with Scott, the hot genius who wrote the CyberMatches software and is convinced of its infallibity. How will Rose tell her dream guy that their match is based on a lie?

I wish I had better news. Your one sentence interests me, but in the end I’m afraid I don’t feel this is different enough. In fact, since the popularity of online dating I feel this is a story I’ve seen a hundred times before. In the end it seems to me that you don’t have enough conflict. A man and a woman and a misunderstanding over a dating survey is not going to be enough to carry any story. What else is going on to make this stand out? Are there diamond smugglers on the ship? Does it sink? Is her husband also with her? What else makes this book more than just a boy meets girl, boy hates girl, boy loves girl story?

100. Ana
What if a woman became a vigilante after the assassination of her husband, but every murder looked like an accident?

(Title) is a psychological thriller about a pseudo-sheltered, solitary widow who struggles to protect the people she loves from physical harm amidst a civilian world of ineffective law enforcement and unverifiable threats. As she adopts a secret life of creating accidents to remove dangerous people from the lives of her loved ones, the secrets that protect everyone else threaten to destroy her. Vigilante justice creates new threats, and she must keep a little girl safe while trying to find peace for her own soul. But she’s not the only one who would do anything to keep someone safe.

Oh, sweet Ana. Pitch 100. I’ve been working to get to you for weeks.

Your first line grabs me, but I think you could skip the last section. I would assume that she makes each murder look like an accident, otherwise she isn’t going to get too far on her mission. I like this concept, but my first concern when reading your pitch is that the book is going to be overwritten. “(Title) is a psychological thriller about a pseudo-sheltered, solitary widow who struggles to protect the people she loves from physical harm amidst a civilian world of ineffective law enforcement and unverifiable threats.” Wouldn’t it be better just to say: “(Title) is a psychological thriller about a sheltered, solitary widow struggling to protect those she loves. After the assassination of her husband, Tillie goes on a murderous rampage all in the name of vigilante justice. But now….”? And here’s where you tell us your character’s real conflict. What is she really facing and what is she really up against?

Okay, readers, it’s up to you now (and no slacking off on me!). . . .


29 responses to “Pitch Critiques Round 17”

  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I learn so much reading these! In this group alone there were many “liked it but needed more comments”

    I get the feeling there really is MORE in some cases, but we’re contantly told to cut our query letters short.

    This is a good lesson for me to try to work my query to include the MORE, without geting sidetracked with it!!!

  2. Avatar sylvia says:

    I am quite liking these as an intermittent series. You could pick a day a week so people knew when to expect them, if you are worried about submitters chafing at the wait.

    I’ve read previous things like th is where they are all written up and posted within a week or two and tbh it’s just too much for me to take in. Spread out like this, I gain a lot more from reading the pitches and your comments.

    I also am finally seeing the difference between a pitch that includes the “voice” of the novel and those that don’t.

  3. Jessica,
    Do you get a buzz in your ears or some sign when you know it’s right? Or is it more you see the technical things that must be there.
    The last one gave me a buzzing in my ears. I’d read it.
    This has been such a learning experience. Not only for pitches, but thinking about the next book I’m going to write and how to make it stand out.
    Thanks for doing this and once a week is fine for these. Sylvia’s right. All at once would be overload.

  4. Jessica, I don’t have time to comment on queries as I overslept, but I do want to leave a comment.

    I’m planning on going to a writer’s conference later this year. Studying these queries, your comments and the readers’ comments is pretty illuminating to me. As I said before, I’m not sure I know how to put it to practice, but I am learning what to look for. So, they aren’t tedious to me and I rather doubt they are to anyone else.

    I would offer you some kind of tempting reward, but in lieu of that heartfelt thanks. It is probably helping far more people than you realize.

  5. Back to pitch school.
    anon359: She’s right, we’ve seen it before. But if there’s something else there that would grab us-put it in. A crime? A challenge?
    anon401; Liked the first line but the rest needed something. Maybe just tightened up? But I do like the concept of the story.
    Jess; I like it but I think the words need to change around. Something like, to fulfil her dying father’s wish…”
    Beth: Good start but what are they facing that would bring them together in the end? Does something happen on the cruise that forses them to work together to resolve? I think I need more information on the ultimate conflict.
    Ana: like the concept. Liked your newer shorter version but the longer one left me with too many questions. Is this an ex-millitary woman who brought the bad guys back with her? Or was it a random killing? You use the word assasinated so I’m thinking its something else? When I think vigilante I think random. Assasin makes me think he was a target and there’s more going on so I’m a bit confused. (but its okay-I’m a blond so its easy to confuse me)

  6. Avatar Andrew says:

    Re: 96. The idea of a gay-panic switcheroo has been done before, and it can lead to slapstick comedy, but I think anyone with a sexual orientation can see the flaw in the storyline. I have seen convincing men in drag, and I have seen men in drag who are obviously attractive men. There isn’t really an overlap here. A convincing man in drag looks like a woman, and therefore I (being gay) wouldn’t be attracted to him. I have to think that the same principle would be true for a heterosexual schoolboy. If the “moral meltdown” is the center of the story, it’s a weak premise. If it’s a minor subplot for comic effect… well, it’s still weak, but perhaps overlookable.

  7. Avatar Amy says:

    I really think it’s the sheer volume of pitches Jessica has been willing to go through that is helping the most. Other blogs have critiqued one or two, offered an example of what a good one is supposed to look like, but here there are examples from loads of different genres and different levels of writing experience. With all these examples, it’s finally getting pounded into my head what makes a good query.

    As for once a week- I’m third from the end, so it would be July before I got critiqued! Just kidding- I’m so grateful Jessica is going to critique us all that it doesn’t matter how long it takes. It’s got to be a time-consuming process for her.

  8. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Thanks for continuing to do these. I’m somwhere in the 200’s but I try to offer at least one comment each time whether they are helpful or not, who knows?

    For # 96 — It isn’t clear to me what the story is about. Is the premise the Main Character is attracted to someone who he finds out is a girl, or the fact that the girl is hiding out from killers — and he has an immediate interest in her because he knows she’s posing as a boy when those around him seem oblivous? It might be very clear in your story, but it isn’t in the pitch.

    And I have to say I’m in agreement with Andrew’s assesment (above). If the character isn’t gay, would he be attracted to a girl that “looks” like a boy?

    Pitch # 98 — what are the specifics? Of battles? Of the characters?

  9. Jessica,

    Thanks again for doing this, it’s been a huge commitment for one and we all appreciate it greatly.

    pitch 97:

    I really like this pitch, I think it sounds like an interesting story and one I might pick up. I’m detecting some humor in there, or maybe I’m hoping there’s some humor in there because that could make it a really fun read (it also makes it easier to like a mc who kills people if it’s dark comedy).

    The thing that made me pause was the name Evan – usually people who employ contract killers are thugs, drug dealers, etc… unless they’re cia – you don’t automatically think of a name like Evan for a character like that – so I’m wondering if there’s some twist to who she kills for…

    pitch 100,

    I love the rewrite!!! First, I have to say, you get a completely different picture of your mc in the first pitch. There, I was thinking, meek housewife pushed to the edge. Your second pitch builds a much stronger, more interesting character – now I’m seeing ‘bad @ss’ – I think it works a lot better.

    In this revised pitch, you also give Kendra’s name, which I think gives the reader a better sense of her, too.

    Hope that helps some. Great work guys.

  10. Avatar Ana says:

    So glad I could be your sweet 100! I hope that this revised pitch is worthy of the honor:

    Shorter version:
    The greatest danger to the people she loves isn’t from the corrupt businessmen, the terrorists, or the police chief’s all-too-observant son. The greatest danger lurks within her own conscience…

    Longer version:

    They had weapons instead of investments and friends instead of children, but at least they were supposed to have a safe life after they left the military. But when Kendra’s husband is assassinated, she must take justice into her own hands in order to protect the people she loves. When her vigilante acts brings the danger closer, guilt and the threat of disclosure draw Kendra and her friends into a final confrontation of loyalty and conscience. The wrong choice just might kill them all.

    (Have at it, everyone. I’ll get this right or die trying…)

  11. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    I agree with you, Merry. Ana’s second pitch sounds fantastic, and what’s interesting to me is how the change in wording paints a totally different picture.

  12. Avatar Phoenix says:

    Just a reminder that these are pitches, not queries. And that when Jessica says she needs to see more of the plot/conflict/characters, she usually means in the same amount of space, not tacking on more to your pitch and turning it into the query beast. :o)

    96: I agree with Andrew on the premise. Plus, what kind of message does it send to have all sorts of moral angst over sexual identity only for the MC to be redeemed because it turns out that he’s straight after all? Sounds like it’s really the girl’s story rather than the guy’s.

    97: Personal opinion only, but since all three characters intro’d here are killers for hire, I don’t see anyone sympathetic. I’m also unclear as to how James is not helping her continue her normal life as a contract killer if he’s giving her the rules to kill by. I think you mean James is distracting her, but that’s not really what the pitch is saying.

    98: This sounds like it could be an action-packed SF novel. If so, then perhaps ditch the making her father proud and his dying wish part and give us more action and the reason why this is different from other space quest/galactic war stories.

    99: Once she’s met Scott, does Rose pretend to be the person she input into the survey? If she’s continuing to live the lie, and the story is about the lengths she goes to keep up the masquerade and keep Scott’s interest, that might be the basis of a light category romantic comedy. But I can’t tell if that’s the story here or not.

    100: A little long for a pitch; you’re straying into query territory with your original. As for your rewrites, I feel they’re a bit too vague with references to “they,” “the danger,” “her own conscience,” and such. And I can’t tell if she’s a solitary vigilante taking justice into her own hands (a little too cliche, perhaps?), or if she’s part of an organized mob. If her friends are all part of the vigilante group, just who are the people she loves that she’s trying to protect? But others are liking it, so maybe I’m missing something they’re seeing quite clearly!

  13. Avatar Heidi says:

    I love Ana’s revised pitch! My thought about the first pitch was that it was so vague: words like harm, secrets, threats, all are very vague and common. Your revised pitch gives a much cleared idea of who Kendra is (I agree that it was great to know her name) and what her dilemma is. I disagree with Aimless Writer about vigilante… to me, vigilante is taking the law into your own hands to right a wrong, which means it is very specific and targeted (but I, also, am blond, so take that however you want).

    Anon 401: The fourth sentence seemed awkard. Maybe changing “teacher of all things violent and partner” would be better as “partner and teacher of all things violent,” although “All things violent” is a bit redundant, as you’ve already explained her job. I love the concept of the book, and the first and last sentence are really good. It’s the middle where I start to lose interest.

    I am definitely getting why queries are so important. The concepts of most of these are really interesting, but when the pitch seems vague or bland, I’d worry the book would be too. Thanks to everyone who stuck their neck (and egos) out for this, and to Jessica for helping making this process seem so much less a mystery!

  14. Avatar Serenissima says:

    Ana –

    I like the longer revised version best, especially that first line. Best of luck with pitching!

  15. Avatar C.J. says:

    i feel like the old “show, don’t tell” adage applies to this batch of pitches. it’s a tall order to show in just a couple sentences, but i think those things that come off as telly (saying so-and-so ‘struggles’ or that someone ‘feels’ hurt or whatever) end up being a turn off for a reader.

    wow jessica, 100! persistence, or stubbornness :), is a good quality in an agent and you’ve got it in spades.

  16. Avatar Jess says:

    Thanks, Jessica. It was hard trying to fit it into ONE sentence, and I just wanted to show I really did have conflict/plot more than get to the heart of it because I didn’t think I had enough space. That would only be the hook, though, and I would elaborate it in the next paragraph, but I can see how it could be given more punch. Thanks!

    I haven’t commented mostly because by the time I usually read them, anything I’d want to say has been said by other posters. It’s a learning experience reading them, though, so thank you for keeping at it, Jessica.

  17. Avatar Jael says:

    Another educational batch! My issue with #96 was not that it’s been done (the 80s movie was Just One of the Guys, the Bynes was an adaptation of Shakespeare called She’s the Man), but that you have two ideas presented as equally important. In a pitch I think you need to pick one to lead with, and make the other subordinate. If the guy agrees to help this classmate on the run from killers, they become roommates or go on the road or something, and then later he finds out she’s a girl, that’s more cohesive and less confusing. The way it’s presented, with the moral meltdown first… that seems off to me, somehow. Good luck to you, and everyone!

  18. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Thanks for all of these critiques, Jessica. I’m really learning a lot.

    I don’t know if this is bad form or not but I just read on agent Caren Johnson’s blog that she will be doing a proposal critique for a reader to celebrate her one-year blog anniversary. The address is https://www.carenjohnson.com.


  19. Avatar Anonymous says:

    #97 – You might check out Leslie Langtry’s book, ‘Scuse Me While I Kill This Guy. It’s a romance with an assassin heroine.

    I’m afraid the phrase “she’s miserable” would turn me off. I don’t want angsty killers all the time.

    I love the idea of a heroine who is a contract killer and think that has potential to be really interesting.

    Now you tell me. I queried the wrong Bookends agent. 😉 Fortunately, my agent felt the same way.

  20. Avatar Anne-Marie says:

    Jessica, I’ve found all these critiques so helpful (even as I shudder about what will be said when you get into the 130s- too long! too long! I can hear it already)and find myself nodding towards the screen as I read your reaction.

    #96- I was thinking about Yentl, strangely enough, which had a similar sub-plot between Streisand and Patinkin.

    #97- I like the idea of the main character, but I was a bit confused by the actual plot (where and why exactly does James come in?) and I feel the middle of the paragraph needs to be tightened in terms of language. Some sentences seemed awkward to me.

    #98- I think this has the makings of a great tale, but I thought that letting the reader know what the item was might strengthen the hook.

    #99- The longer pitch was stronger, but I think the story needs an added element, too. (eg: a dangerous lie?)

    #100- Ana, I like the longer version of your revised pitch, and the story itself sounds interesting. Good luck with it!

  21. 96. Yes, it’s been done quite a bit. I remember particularly in one medieval romance novel a bit about a knight being upset that he was attracted to his squire.

    Even so, I am intrigued by the idea of a girl, hiding out in a boys’ school. I think that would be more of the hook than the attraction dilemma. That could be an interesting story.

    97. The first line is interesting, but I had to wonder if she kills because she dates. I’m thinking online dating serial killer or something.

    On reading further, it’s an, “aha, this might be interesting.”

    I am horrible with typos and missing punctuation, which should be there, but obviously gets eaten by gremlins, who hate me. However, referring to James as that instead of who sets my teeth on edge.

    I think it has some definite potential, but it needs something different.

    98. I’m a sucker for epic battles, but doing it to make your father proud doesn’t really grab me. There’s probably an intriguing story here once you get to the meat of it.

    99. This could be interesting. One of my favorite movies is DON’T TELL HER IT’S ME. I love the romance author who sets out to prove women like the dangerous guys. It’s a wonderful twist on the relationship based on a lie theme.

    I’m hesitant to dismiss something because it’s been done because the execution is the real test. The problem is you have to prove how it is unique.

    100. The first sentence doesn’t click for me. This really is a theme that has been done a lot, so it’s going to have to be very special. I think it would have to be almost a secondary theme and focus on how she accomplishes the murders as the primary.

    I’m afraid I came off very negative tonight and I apologize if anyone is disturbed. With almost all of these, just a bit of tweaking and twisting might very well make me want to go buy them.

    No one, but you knows your story, but that is the problem with the pitches. You have to distill the essence quickly.

    Good job to all.

  22. Avatar Ana says:

    Fantasic feedback, everyone! Many thanks. I’m hoping this helps to resolve the issues:

    They had weapons instead of investments and friends instead of children, but at least they were supposed to live in safety after they left the military to fulfill old promises. But when Kendra’s husband is assassinated for stumbling onto his new boss’s secrets, the impotent justice system traps Kendra into sacrificing her conscience to protect others. When her vigilante acts brings the danger closer, guilt and the threat of disclosure draw Kendra and the people she tried to protect into a final confrontation of loyalty and conscience. The wrong choice just might kill them all.

  23. Avatar Ana says:

    “Ana would ignore the ringing red phone and an AK-47 at the door in order to get her pitch right. When literary agent Jessica Faust hints that her pitch could be better, Ana overwhelms Jessica’s blog with attempts to make the perfect pitch. But when Ana discovers that she has threatened her career by monopolizing the Comments section, she must find redemption by commenting on every pitch in Round 17.”

    96: Jael’s comments are on target. The idea has great potential, but you need to clarify your primary conflict.

    97: How about, “Most men would kill to date Livia. Problem is, she’s the contract killer they would have to hire. But when her boss-turned-boyfriend leaves her for another woman, Livia finds that moving on is harder than shooting a man at a thousand yards. Too bad they don’t make Kevlar for the heart.” It’s a bit rough, but you get the idea. I love the core premise as long as the conflict is strong enough.

    98: Writing a pitch for an epic adventure can be tricky since the outer conflicts vary so much. I would suggest focusing on the stakes. What will happen if the galactic war does not stop?

    99: I agree with Jessica’s comments, but I’m wondering if you can escalate the conflict with Scott’s belief in the software’s infallibility. What if Scott doesn’t care that she tampered with the data because he thinks the software is foolproof? What if Rose knows that a competing travel agent is the one that Scott should have been matched with? You could have a lot of fun taking this love story out of the ordinary.

  24. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    Ana, loved your revised pitch, but your mea culpa is even better!

  25. “Ana would ignore the ringing red phone and an AK-47 at the door in order to get her pitch right. When literary agent Jessica Faust hints that her pitch could be better, Ana overwhelms Jessica’s blog with attempts to make the perfect pitch. But when Ana discovers that she has threatened her career by monopolizing the Comments section, she must find redemption by commenting on every pitch in Round 17.”

    Perfect. I really like this and it does grab me now.

    The first thing I thought of about the vengeance angle was a story from the old west. Husband and wife are waylaid by a group of outlaws. She is brutally raped and they kill her husband, then leave her there naked. She is found and taken back to town. When she recovers, she goes on a vendetta and becomes a bounty hunter. She’s so serious about it she has a special coffin constructed she fills with whiskey to preserve the bodies so she can collect bounties from more than one source.

    Yes, I abound with odd facts and stories, which makes me much sought after at elegant dinner parties. Or, it may explain why I have never been invited to one.

    Anyway, this definitely gets my attention. Good job and good luck. I think you have a keeper.

  26. *Toddles off to get coffee and wake up.

    I meant Ana had a keeper in the last revision, rather than her mea culpa. That did make me laugh, however.

  27. Jessica, I wish you wouldn’t pressure yourself that way. You’re going to end up resenting having to do it, and that’s not going to do any of us any good. Doing them intermittently keeps the blog fresh, and makes them a pleasant surprise. You can save them for when you don’t have something else you want to blog about. We’re not going anywhere. We’ll all still be here when our turn comes. It’s not good to stress.

  28. Jessica,

    I particularly like the suggestion you made with regard to those who may have rewritten their submitted pitches.

    “And if you’ve rewritten, don’t be afraid to post and hear what others say”

    That takes away any pressure you may feel to critique rewritten pitches, and gives us the opportunity to get feedback on later pitch iterations.

    My toes tend to curl when I look at the pitch I submitted – in a hurry because I worried that you would close submissions – and I look forward not only to your critique of the original pitch but what fellow blog fans will say about my revision.

    I echo others in their thanks for what you’re doing – even if you never get to mine (number 200+) – because I’ve learned a lot.

  29. Allen, I’ll be happy to offer comments such as they are. Not sure it does anyone any good, but at least a person has another opinion.