Here's how I approached this. I read the PITCH first. I've noted the pitches that caught my eye.
The purpose of a pitch is to get your reader or listener to say "oh wow, I want to read that!" In other words, this is an entirely subjective process and what may not entice me, may very well entice another. You'll see that very clearly if you read the comments on yesterday's post where blog readers discuss what enticed them.
Herewith my choices for pitches that worked well:
Two women compete to become co-ruler of their country. They become friends. When the winner dies unexpectedly the runner-up takes power, only to find her friend is alive.I like this a lot because it's clear what's at stake. There's also a big picture (ruling the country) and the little picture (the friendship.) If Cheryl pitched this book to me in an elevator I'd say "yup, I want to read that."
Pitch: A letter she was never supposed to read leads a terminally ill girl to find the family she was never supposed to know and her last hope for survival.While this is a well-used plot line, it's evergreen. If the book has a fresh, new twist I'd be all in.
When an undercover’s case against the Russian mob is compromised, she quits the NYPD and escapes upstate with her troubled son. Zero crime rate. Perfect schools. Then her boy vanishes.Instant tension. This is a terrific pitch example.
George Archer’s a veteran, he fights inner demons, tilting windmills, and now, a very real oil company pursuing a dubious pipeline permit…and the psycho they’ve hired to frame him."he fights inner demons, tilting windmills" tells us a a lot about George in a fresh, compelling way. I'm not much on psychos as antagonists, but I'd def ask for more with this pitch.
Pitch: All he wanted was her. All she wanted was to change the world.I like the juxtaposition here. This could describe almost any kind of book, and I'd still want to take a look.
Pitch: My mother disappeared when I was 13. It would take 17 years to bring my father to trial for her murder. A trial with no body, weapon, or eyewitness.This pitch is sufficiently compelling that I checked my email to see if I'd done something stupid like pass on the query. This pitch is perfect.
An Appalachian King Lear without the armies.I don't need to know anything more. I'd want to take a look.
Harold finds a body in his apartment. Harold's problem is, the police think it's his. When his would-be killers find out it isn't, his problems will get worse.The only thing I'd suggest changing is "getting worse" to something more…compelling.
I'd ask for pages from this pitch as is though, so it does work.
Pitch (under 30 words): William the Conqueror's overlords have always been men. Until now.Who wouldn't want to read this!
Bad news? Dad's inherited a run-down farm.
Worse news? The only kid within miles is a scowling, weirdly-dressed boy.
Worst news? He’s not even alive.
Now, here's an example of something you might think you couldn't say out loud if someone asked you "what's your book about?" but you CAN. This is a really good pitch, and if I heard it in an elevator, I'd ask for pages then and there. And that's a pretty neat trick given I don't read much in this category.
Your take away here: A really effective pitch makes people want to read something they normally wouldn't.
William Darrah Whitaker
When Hollywood agent dies, he learns God ends the world if we can’t get along. He negotiates a second chance for everyone including himself. What’s God got up his sleeve?I like the premise here. I think it sounds pretty funny. Books with God as a character are very tricky, but this pitch is solid enough to overcome those doubts.
When King Phillip IV unjustly executes her husband, 42-year-old French noblewoman Jeanne will do anything for revenge—including trading her castles for a pirate fleet. Based on a true story.Who wouldn't want to read this!
Veteran airline pilot Roscoe Edwards moonlights as courier for the Partners, elite operatives who recover lost property for select clients, but he is a sociopathic thief who will betray anyone.
This is a pitch that's effective for me cause I’m always in on novels with thieves. What doesn't work well is the "sociopathic thief who will betray anyone." Sociopathic is overused to describe characters. Worse, It doesn't really tell us anything specific about the character. And "betray anyone" doesn't link back to thieves. Something more specific about what Roscoe does/plans to do/will do will help here.
After I read the entries to find the pitches I liked, I went back and read them again, this time also reading the context material. Here are some entries with some suggested revisions. I didn't do every entry because I didn't have time, and a lot of the entries are in categories I don't actively represent, and thus may not be the right person to ask about what's enticing.
Seeking truth amid her father’s bullying and her mother’s secrets, sixteen-year-old Priya unlocks a series of questions better left unanswered. Her friend—her love—Xander dies during a scuffle with a Phospholis city official, and King Devon orders Priya’s eye removed for witnessing Xander’s death. She’s banished to the secret underground city of Oblitus, where everyone is maimed to mark them as outsiders. To prevent war between the two cities, Priya needs to reunite as many people as she can—especially after she finds out the real reason they took her eye.
Pitch: Sixteen-year-old Priya loses an eye, and gains a new kind of sight, which she’ll need to save two cities from a war based on ignorance.
This pitch didn't entice me cause it was too abstract.
Suggested pitch revision:
Sixteen-year-old Priya is maimed and banished for witnessing her lover's death. When she discovers the real reason she was half-blinded, impending war pits her home city against her safe haven.
(31 words, not 30, but this is just a couple drafts) Also, it links Priya's maiming with the impending war, and I'm not sure if that's accurate from the context.
Giving this pitch some specifics will help.
Commercial Fiction (Domestic Suspense)
Jackie Mason is running from her violent criminal ex-boss (ex-lover, ex-whatever), Cort. He thinks she stole from him. She did. She’s planning a temporary stop-over at home to pick up the inheritance from her dead parents’ estate, pay off Cort, then start over somewhere else to rebuild her life. Nothing goes to plan. At home, Jackie runs directly into the icy wall of her ex-fiancé David Mann (with whom she’s still in love), and her sister Sara. Sara Mason Mann. One of them may have murdered her parents. She has a choice: investigate or keep running. Neither option is trouble-free.
The only way out of trouble means wading into a different kind.
Then the old trouble comes knocking.
Her perfect sister holds the invitation.
And twists the knife.
This pitch didn't work for me cause it's too abstract to be interesting.
The context is actually pretty interesting.
Suggested pitch revision:
During Jackie's brief stopover at home on her way to a new life (stolen cash in hand) to pick up her dead parents inheritance she runs smack dab into former love David Mann and her sister Sara. Sara Mason Mann. One of them may have murdered her parents. She has a choice: investigate or keep running. (56 words)
During Jackie's brief stopover (on her way to a new life) to pick up her dead parents inheritance she runs into former love David Mann and her sister Sara. Sara Mason Mann. One of them may have murdered her parents. She has a choice: investigate or keep running. (48 words)
On Jackie's quick visit to pick up her dead parents inheritance she runs into former love David Mann and her sister Sara. Sara Mason Mann. One of them may have murdered her parents. Her choice: investigate or keep running. (39 words)
Adult/SuspenseThe pitch didn't work for me cause I don't know what Quantico and Revenge are. (My guess is televisions shows, but I'm woefully behind the times on tv. Many agents are so be careful using them as comps)
Justice isn’t black and white, it’s blood-red. Lily runs The Center where the broken enter and avengers emerge. With help from the finest minds, she molds victims into elite teams trained to rescue, retrieve, redeem . . . and eliminate. Her dark secrets are about to come out. At six, she witnessed Sissy’s murder. At seventeen, she stole a piece of Center equipment and took revenge. Only her best friend knows the whole story, including the lives lost that night. The truth could destroy her, and bring down The Center. Letting it happen on her terms could save her trainees.
Pitch: QUANTICO meets REVENGE. In a heart-wrenching 180, Lily grows from terrified child to lethal revenge master rescuing victims and exacting justice, her way.
It was also too abstract to be interesting. I had no sense of plot, or choices.
Lily molds victims into elite teams to rescue, retrieve, redeem. The truth about what she did for revenge herself could destroy the good work she does.
This isn't a great pitch (in my defense, let's remember the first few drafts of something are always the worst!) but it brings more specifics, and a sense of what's at stake.
Category: Commercial fiction
Adult or YA: Adult
After his sister’s husband is killed in a car accident, former runaway Charm Freeman returns home to find a fragile family still shadowed by long unresolved issues. Drawn in against his better judgment, he finds himself at odds with his sister over how to best help her ten-year-old son, Lucas, deal with the death of his father. Against his sister's wishes, Charm and Lucas join together to turn an injured retriever into a champion, a journey that forces the family to face the issues that still threaten to tear them apart.
A wayward traveler and his suddenly-fatherless nephew defy family and challenge their faith to turn an injured retriever into a field champion.
The pitch isn't terrible but it's not very compelling. And there's not enough about the dog!
An injured retriever brings Charm and Lucas together despite family problems as they work together to train the dog to …whatever it is they're training for.
In other words, more about the dog, less about the people.
Why? DOG BOOKS SELL
Some things to avoid in a pitch
Pitch: Immigrant kid gets mistaken for refugee alien + transported to space between neither this nor that. Struggles to return home. Help = tree-like creature + albino alligator allergic to tears.+ = stuff is like text-speak.
While I don't do YA, and thus this advice should be compared to what other agents who do work in YA say, I find symbols distracting in a query. I'm not sure if + means and or then or and then..
Anything that makes me think "huh??" while reading your query is generally to be avoided.
(this was one of the pitches I liked a lot last week!)
Category: Issue Bookthis isn't a real category. Avoid doing this in a pitch. Pick the category closest to what you're writing (I'm guessing YA contemporary) and let your reader suss out that there are serious issues in the book.
Category: Adult. Women’s fiction that takes domestic suspense to another level.don't laud your own book! That's a real no-no in queries and pitching, in that there's no way to do it without coming across as an asshat, which I know you are NOT.
I hope this was useful for all y'all.
I know I can't do this every weekend but let's try to do more of these, if you're willing.
I very much appreciate the bravery of every one of you who posted your work and let us comment on it, and learn from it. I know this is very very hard to do. You've earned the respect of every blog reader here.