Sunday, August 3, 2008

Pitch Contest Honorable Mentions 1-19

I received one pitch for an adult crime fiction book. I can't comment on adult fiction; it's a very different market, and I know little about it. That pitch should be submitted to Query Shark.

Ok; here we go:
1. Its skin was the color of boulders and rocks. It was bumpy and cold as rocks too.
This was a good try at a 'worst pitch' but it should have gone on longer. If you're going to be this pointlessly repetitive, you have to really go for it. And you might want to throw in something totally incongruous for flair:

Its skin was the color of boulders and rocks. It was bumpy and cold as rocks, too. Its teeth and hair and long, softly feathered, swan-like neck were like rocks. It was, all around, pretty rock-like.

That's the kind of pitch that makes an editor's head explode.
2. Eugene and his Amazing Homework Machine
Eugene will do anything to avoid doing his homework. He'd much rather spend his time building model airplanes, trains, and other crazy doodads. When a teacher threatens him with an ultimatum, Eugene builds his most elaborate creation ever - the homework machine! Only time will tell if Eugene's amazing homework machine is grade A material...or if it's class dismissed for good!
It sounds like this story is maybe supposed to be funny, but the humor isn't coming across in the pitch. Remember to include not only what the story's about, but the story's main appeal, as well.
3. Historical novel for middle-grade readers
Longing to study the sacred stories of the prehistoric Polynesian island where she lives, thirteen-year-old Ani begins spying on classes taught by the High Priest. When a failing student named Atev catches her, she agrees to teach him how to read and write, something only she has figured out how to do. Ani and Atev become friends, but their status differences create friction, and when the High Priest suddenly accuses Ani of breaking the law, she is convinced Atev has betrayed her. Exiled, Ani must learn what really happened – and why.
If she's the first to read and write on the island, it's not something she figured out-- it's something she's invented. This ms might be interesting enough to request, but I'd want to know whether it's historically feasible (ie, the story is fiction, of course, but how true to ancient Polynesia is it?) That'll make a difference to whether it's useful in classrooms.
4. Historical novel for middle-grade readers
Despite drought, dwindling food supplies, and hostile neighbors, twelve-year-old Towhee is the only member of the ancient pueblo community of Sand Canyon who does not wish to search for greener pastures. When marauders attack as her people are leaving, Towhee falls through a dilapidated pit roof and is left for dead. She is tested by many challenges – including how to find food and evade predators – but the biggest is how to contend with the spirit voices that have begun to call to her. With the help of new friends, Towhee must find a way to understand her unusual talent and discover the true meaning of home.
Sounds kinda Island of the Blue Dolphins. I might request this, but I wish I understood the 'spirit voices' part a little better. Are you using that aspect to convey more about the culture and your MC's character? Or are you going somewhere spiritual and new-agey with this (in which case I don't want it)?
5. Sixteen-year-old Ester Elaine Lambert (Eel for short) meets incoming college freshman Lexington at a local malt shop, and he confides that he owns something he feels could make anybody rich and famous: a bottle of bubble solution with magical properties. Eel doesn't believe him, but she steals the bubbles anyway on the off chance that they might boost her bank account—the only hitch is that she accidentally drops a bowling ball on Lexington's head in the process. After blowing the bubbles all over her parents and best friend and concluding the whole thing was a joke, Eel discovers that the bubbles actually do have a magic power—the power to give people instant midlife crises. When her mother jets off to New York to join the Rockettes, her father embraces an embarrassing new career path, and her best friend shaves off her hair and her endearing qualities, Eel must reverse the bubble solution's effects before the local police nab her for the assault on Lexington.
This needs a little work. Bubbles? Is this manuscript meant to be funny? If so, so should the pitch be. Right now I'm getting 'disjointed'.
6. Pumpkin House (picture book)
The label on the seed packet did say 'Jumbo Pumpkin,' but who knew it would keep growing and growing and....
"Just like those magic bean things," mused Mom.
It was a shoe-in for a blue ribbon at the State Fair, till a tussle with a rogue pie-man squashed their hopes. So, the family wondered what to do with a damaged gourd, until Sam got an idea.
Could be funny. But I don't get enough of an idea of the whole manuscript from this. You're hinting. Don't hint in pitches.
7. What if your nation stood defenseless against a sorcerous enemy, while its only hope for survival was sealed in a magical prison by a centuries-old injustice? What if freeing that hope requires that you, yes you, solve an ancient puzzle while breaking every law you’ve sworn to uphold...and costs your father his life? Fifteen-year-old Ruadhan wonders how he can inherit his father’s mission but not his druid magic; why his dead mother has no grave, and why he’s been stuck with this absolutely impossible quest...but he doesn’t wonder why his sister’s trying to kill him. If only she didn’t have her own army... if only he had more than three days [Star, YA historical fantasy, 190 pages.]
You've started with a question that's hard to follow, let alone identify with. Take out the "yes you" part. Breaking every law you've sworn to uphold and costing your father his life? Jeez, this sounds turgid. And then there's the rest of the pitch.
Remember that your pitch is an introduction to your story. Don't dump every wringing thing on the reader all at once.
8. Title: Always Music
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Sarah sees a swordsman killing things on the streets of Baltimore. No one believes her, until she confides in Jack, a bitter young widower who owns a music shop. Jack has his own history with invisible swordsmen--one killed his wife. When the swordsman comes after her, Sarah turns to Jack for help, only to find out that Jack knows a lot more than he's letting on--because his story doesn't end with his wife's murder, it only starts there.
Killing things? What things? ...Potato bugs? ...Tulips? ...Unicorns?
Concentrate on your main character's point of view--including this Jack character. There's too much info about him in this pitch. Judicious sharing of information is key in pitches.
9. A long time from now, in an age that may or may not come to pass, when much of humankind has lost all sense of reason and people live as slaves under a power-wielding Strong Man and his brutal Cohorts, there lived Ed, a boy able to see through darkness and great distances... Ed Night-Seer (young adult, 35,000 words) is a hero's journey story set in the former United States one generation after nuclear disaster has decimated the world as human beings regress back to a state of one-man dominance, forcing the people to toil and only dream of freedom. Ed is marked by the Strong Man to join his ranks; he must escape to save himself and his people from permanent servitude.
Overwrought. And the term 'strong man' reminds me of circus folk in tights.
10. A MAP OF HEAVEN describes a parent's worst nightmare and a child's greatest fear. A young girl copes with the loss of a parent and hopes for a place where love never ends.
Approach this from the child's perspective (ie, lose 'parent's worst nightmare'). And there isn't enough info in this pitch. What happens in the story?
11. Everyone wants Peter. The school bully wants to rearrange his face for Peter breaking his nose. The class flirt wants him for her boyfriend. And an older dancer wants to make Peter his latest lover. But all Peter wants is to partner his beloved Melissa in a romantic pas de deux.
Let's just acknowledge that a book about a ballerino is going to be tough to sell. I mean, even without the gay issues. But if it were really funny and smart, it could work. ...The funny part isn't coming across here.
12. Harold loves baseball, old cowboy movies and pumpkin pie, but hates his crown, which is heavy and old-fashioned and gives the king a bad case of crown-head at the end of the day. Can Harold and his twenty-three closest advisers update his image before the dastardly editor of the Regal Register convinces its readers to oust the monarchy? Of course! But not without first causing the palace team to forfeit the championship, destroying the kingdom’s pumpkin crop, and nearly burning the palace down . . .The King’s New Hat is a chapter book for ages seven to ten.
Updating his image isn't a terribly relate-able issue for children. Is there another way to put this?
13. Genre: YA
When Rory, a selective mute and math genius, at Manfredo's Charter School for the Highly Gifted finally solves Dangle's Last Theorum, the world isn't ready for what comes next. One after another, the basic laws of the universe begin to unravel. Gravity. Time. The speed of light. Newton's Laws. Even the planets stop rotating, sending the world into an eternal noon. Unable to communicate with Rory, the rest of Mrs. Jozwall's eighth grade class furiously tries to stop the breakdown of the Universe Machine, while chaos breaks out hilariously all around them. The students soon learn, however, that Manfredo's elite school isn't what it appears—and maybe even worse, once Dangle's Theorum has been solved, there's no way to unsolve it.
You lost me at 'basic laws of the universe begin to unravel'.
14. Being able to time travel has been useful for Sienna and her fellow Travelers; however, their gift comes at a price: always knowing when they’re going to die and not being able to do anything about it. When Sienna’s best friend, Joan, loses her brother, Henry, in an accident, she alters history to save him. Joan’s changes backfire though, and she creates a utopian world, except for the fact that Sienna’s left an orphan. It’s up to Sienna to change things back, except it’s not as easy as it looks, and she’s not so sure that it is the right thing to do—not with a hot Henry who is all she’s ever wanted, and an angry Joan willing to do anything to keep her brother alive.

It sounds like her sex life is more convincing argument for leaving her parents dead than the utopia the world has become. Seriously?
15. In the forest of Giants a bluebird’s greatest song tames all the wild creatures – for one night. Piper and the Sleeping Giants is a 429-word picture book written in lively verse. It is an animated tale about a bluebird, Piper, whose dream of serenading the giant sequoia trees takes flight when he braves the presence of predators. Although Piper and the Sleeping Giants is an adventurous picture book that highlights the inhabitants of Sequoia National Park, the poetic text may also double as a sweet bedtime story.
You lost me at "bluebird's greatest song".
16. Mistakenly betrothed to a man who is a deadly sexual predator, Margaret Sinclair must find a way to survive not only her wedding night, but come to terms with her late father's affair and consequently an older brother who is now the heir to all she loves. Two men have sworn to protect her with their own lives, and both men may have to pay that price for her freedom. Historical Romance.
Mistakenly betrothed? Was it an accident? We need some more information here.
17. No one will date Katherine Pearce because her divorced, socialite mother writes a weekly man-bashing column, circulation: the entire planet, or so it seems. While mother goes island-hopping, Katherine spends the summer between junior and senior year with her Midwestern aunt, a ceramics teacher. Katherine takes a job at a factory, praying that the eligible males on the assembly line and in the remote town have never heard of Margot Pearce. She finally finds a boyfriend, an aspiring musician, but when mother jets in for a surprise visit, will Katherine's relationship be yesterday's news?
Title: Dish
Genre: YA humor
Age range: 14 and up
Take out 'ceramics teacher'. Insert humor.
18. Pete only likes to play astronauts, firemen and pirate games with his best friend Daniel. That all changes one rainy day when his little sister triumphantly transforms him into Princess Pete. Pete is endearing as they explore their kingdom, put out fires in the castle and rescue incompetent princes. But his sister’s joy turns to despair when Daniel calls and threatens to ruin the perfect afternoon.
You know people have a hard time with alternate gender views, right? Unless this is going in a William's Doll direction, this is a pass. What's your message?
19. Because he’s so lazy, Omkar arrives late at the farm market, barely in time to buy the last bag of mustard seeds. The tiny bag contains only ten brown seeds. When his father’s illness worsens, it’s up to Omkar to grow those seeds into a field of mustard, or the village won’t have mustard oil to cook their suppers and light the lamps. But after he plants the seeds, Omkar forgets about them, until it's almost too late.
I just don't get why people will want to buy this.


Vodka Mom said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you - for not including mine in the WORST category, and for providing fabulous insight and advice. Perhaps you should be an editor. oh, wait...

danceluvr said...

Edit. Anon,

I was kind of thinking you could let your readers comment on the pitches, like the late, great Ms. Snark did and how Evil Editor does.

But this works, too. Helps us understand your method of evaluating pitches.


Editorial Anonymous said...

You can still comment on them; they're numbered.

mamiloca said...

This was extremely helpful - seeing exactly what you thought of each one. I learned a lot.

Thanks again for doing this. It was generous of you and enlightening for us.

Carly said...

OMG... how amazing are you?! Thank you so much.

eluper said...

If the world stopped rotating, worse things would happen than "eternal noon", not to mention that the only place with eternal noon would be the spot pointing toward the sun.

MichaelPH said...

I'm overwrought! Ack! This is a ms. I haven't submitted to anyone or had it critiqued. It is a story that has laid fallow...but overwrought! I guess I have work to do...

Laurie said...

Regarding #18
Thank you for that insight...I really hadn't thought it would come across that way. I'll have to rework my pitch. It's really just about a brother who acts silly and gives in to his sister's innocent pleadings to play dress up when there isn't anything else to do. Maybe I should work that angle. Yes?

Editorial Anonymous said...

Cross-dressing is tough to sell. No doubt one day our society will take a more relaxed view, but at this point if you want to have it in a picture book, you're going to have to take on the whole issue in some deliberate way.
Throwing it into a book about something else would be like pitching And Tango Makes Three as a book about a penguin chick that just happens to have two fathers. That would not work.
But making that book about the natural fact of same-gender pairing--and their equal fitness in parenting--let that book find its niche.
If you want to write a book about a boy playing with his sister, don't have him playing princess.
But if you want to try to take on the gender-role issue, go for it.

Kimberly Lynn said...

I would burn my pitch but giant sequoias are resistant to fire . . .


Thanks for your honest feedback, EA. I guess I failed in my attempt to capture the poetic voice of the manuscript. HA. HA. I’ll work on it some more. I definitely do not want to lose an editor on the first sentence! Sniffle. One question? Did the approach to the market in #15 work okay? I couldn’t decide whether to focus on selling this new manuscript solely as a bedtime story – or as an adventure AND bedtime story.

Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to help all of us. We truly appreciate it!

Editorial Anonymous said...

Adventure + bedtime is a little confusing as a combo, but it may just be that I'm not getting what you're doing from the pitch. How does the adventure aspect transition into a sleepy going-to-bed story?
How long is this story? Bear in mind that at bedtime, parents are often exhausted, too, and aren't interested in longer picture books.

Bonnie A said...

Thanks so much for this!

And thank you for not giving #12 a total pass--Harold wants to prove he's not an old fuddy-duddy, so maybe I should just say so.

I'm also glad the adult protagonist is ok--he's very Amelia Bedelia-ish.

I'm learning so much from your comments on all the other pitches, too--thanks again!

Kimberly Lynn said...

Now that you have posed specific questions, I see where I went wrong in the pitch. I think I’m associating the word “adventure” with the movement in the story. Sample stanza:

Piper’s song sends an echo-o-o-o down a passageway in Crystal Cave, where brown bats flitting here and there, hang upside down from stalactites and turn their ears. A pimoa spider weaving a tangled web swings to and fro on a silky thread . . .

The text does transition to a “sleepy going-to-bed story” and the word count is only 429 words. It’s probably in my best interest to focus on that aspect. I know it’s difficult to offer much in regard to pitching a story you haven’t read, but your comments were a huge help to me. Thank you! Thank you!

christine tripp said...

This has been a great learning experience. Yes, perhaps I might have said a lot of the same things, reading many of these pitches but for others, I wouldn't have seen the problems you pointed out. Just want to say kudo's to the writers that are taking AE's comments well and are using the critique to make the pitch better!
I'm now kind of bummed that, though I don't think of myself as a writer, I didn't enter a pitch for a GN b/w that I'm working on, called "Roadkill, a story of loss and found". Man, what you could have done with that one!!!:)

Carly said...

I'm #5, and if anyone else would like to comment, I'd very much appreciate your suggestions. I will, of course, be taking EA's words into account when I revise the pitch. Thank you, EA.

Colorado Writer said...

I've been away, but came back to these GIFTS! Thanks for your excellent guidance.

Of course, I used a version of my pitch a few 200 times at the SCBWI con, and the more I said it out loud, the better and more consise it became.

I also found that the real plot is way different than the 4 sentences I used in this exercise. But, it still has witches. :)


Kimberly Lynn said...

Carly, I’ll give it a try . . .

I feel like what you wrote was more a synopsis versus a pitch. Condense, condense. Also, I’m more attracted to the last sentence because it presents a humorous and original situation. Play around with it some more because it’s funny!

One other comment, I'm dying to know what the father's "embarrassing new career path" is. Be specific in your pitch.

Sounds like a fun book! Good luck!

Carly said...

Thank you so much, Kimberly Lynn. You have a great point in that it is more synopsis-like (and I hate synopses! how did that happen???). Condense and be specific---check!

Anonymous said...

I wasn't aware that there's an excess of witch stories on the market either. My daughter is 8 and reads upper MG... She would go crazy for a fun, humorous witch story like the one in #25.

An interesting contest... I really liked a few of the pitches that EA dismissed. I wonder how much is her personal taste versus how editors in general might react.

A question for EA... was the numeric ranking on the honorable mentions random or was a higher number better and lower number worst, in your opinion?

Anyway, thanks for doing the pitch clinic, EA!

Editorial Anonymous said...

Of course there's a personal aspect to my responses, and that I can't help.

The numerical thing is just in order of receipt.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the invaluable feedback, especially on pitches #3 and #4.

Just for the record, I did research the Polynesian setting in #3 (as well as the pueblo setting in #4). And in #4, the spirit voices are not in any way, shape, or form intended to be New Age-y. (Yikes. I clearly gotta work on that pitch!)

Suzanne said...

Thank you for your very useful comments and the time you've taken to post them here.....they are appreciated.

Simon said...

Can I just add, as a comment for #13:

It's spelled theorem. With another E. It's good to check spelling on things like this, especially if you're misspelling something as major as the McGuffin for the plot.

Cass said...

I can't believe I am just now stumbling onto your Blog. Why oh why didn't I click on the link sooner?!?!

Your comments are priceless!!

Thanks EA