Pub Rants

Blog Pitch Workshop (IX)

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STATUS: Working. Pretty much a normal day. I’m doing a submission tomorrow so I’m pretty excited about that.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HEY JEALOUSY by Gin Blossoms

I promised you a contemporary romance today before moving on. I might have to take a little break from all this analyzing as well. We’ll see. Part of me thinks the point should be pretty clear regardless of the genre you are writing but maybe I’m wrong. Let me know in the comments section if you’re dying for me to tackle a certain type of fiction that I haven’t yet.

As you can see so far, there are many different strategies for writing good pitch copy. You just have to choose what will work best for your story but for the most part, simply focusing on the catalyst event in the first 30 pages or so will get the job done.

In fact, I just put that into practice for tomorrow’s submission. Sure enough, I focused on a situation and event that starts the novel. After the sale, I’ll share that one but I can’t at the moment. So on to contemporary romance. One of my favorite writers is one of my own authors, Jana DeLeon. I think the back cove copy for RUMBLE ON THE BAYOU is just about perfect.

In fact, the copy editor “borrowed” a lot of the verbiage that was in my editor pitch letter, which is great. The copy editor also made it better which reminded me that I could use some work on my own pitches. We can always improve—even agents.

Deputy Dorie Berenger knew it was going to be a rough day when the alligator she found in the town drunk’s swimming pool turned out to be stoned. On heroin. Now she has some big-shot city slicker from the DEA trying to take over her turf. And Agent Richard Starke is everything she’d feared—brash, demanding and way too handsome for his own good. Or hers.

The folks of Gator Bait, Louisiana, may know everything about each other, but they’re sure not going to share it with an outsider. Richard wouldn’t be able to catch a catfish, much less a drug smuggler, without Dorie’s help. But some secrets—and some desires—are buried so deep that bringing them to the surface will take a major

Now let’s analyze:
1. This back cover copy is 8 sentences. Hopefully I’ve driven home the point that pitches needn’t be lengthy to get the job done. Writers who can’t get their query letter to one page aren’t working hard enough.

2. It’s a terrific opening sentence. If this line doesn’t capture your interest, I’m not sure what will. The image of a stoned alligator in the town drunk’s swimming pool sets a vivid scene. This is a Louisiana-set novel and they do things different down there—but not this different. Love it. Any pitch that started with that opening line is going to get a request for sample pages from me. Now, before everyone starts adding that to their opening pitch, it has to be true in the actual story you are writing and honestly, how many stoned alligators can we have. Jana’s already done it. It’s not original anymore.

3. The opening sentence also tells us why a DEA agent is coming to town—which is going to be a source of conflict for our deputy heroine. We know this because the story is a romance but also because of the word choices used. “Her turf” for example. We know he’s “brash and demanding.” We also know what hasn’t been said which is that Agent Richard Starke probably thinks this is a Podunk town with residents who are lacking in IQ.

4. The start of the next paragraph gives us the low-down on how small towns operate. They are close-knit and closed mouth because they understand what Richard is thinking about them. Dorie, however, is the insider. He needs her to catch the drug smuggler.

5. The last line ties into the title (which is clever) and gives a hint of some of the things that will unfold. All small towns have secrets. Most aren’t worth knowing but this one will cause a rumble. Nice tie-in!

17 Responses

  1. Carradee said:

    I’m going to follow the mantra that there is no such thing as a stupid question with the following inquiries.

    • What do you think of slang in a query (like “knocked up”)? Should it be avoided?

    • How should a quote be handled in a query (such as working the meaning of a character’s name into a query, but using it as a quote)? How should it be referenced?

    • When a book is a mixture of genres, how does the writer choose which is best to highlight for queries? Should writers pick the most obvious or the strongest backbone genre, or does this issue just vary from story to story?

    (As an example of what I mean by that one, consider the first Underworld movie, which honestly was an action-adventure with a dual Romeo & Juliet theme that happened to use vampires and werewolves as the two warring families. A lot of viewers got mad because the obvious genre—paranormal vampire/werewolf—didn’t match the foundational one.)

    Thank you very much for all the time and help you provide!

  2. Selene said:

    I would personally like to see fantasy/SF where the world-building is important to the plot/characters/appeal of the book and you can’t just go with a shortcut along the lines of “Venice-like Renaissance city”.


  3. Kate said:

    I agree with Selene..
    How to pitch Fantasy. How to work the ‘rules and limitations’ of your fantasy world into the pitch without taking up too much space!

    Thanks muchly!!!

  4. Mary said:

    I think writing a good pitch requires a bit of distance and objectivity, which I didn’t fully appreciate until this workshop. Also, I was making the mistake of viewing it as a compressed synopsis, partly because I was previously advised that it should NOT read like cover copy. No wonder I wasn’t happy with my pitch. What an idiot!

    Thank you so much for this workshop. For me, the literary fiction and romance posts have been the most helpful, even though I don’t write in those genres.

  5. Anonymous said:

    Mary said, “Also, I was making the mistake of viewing it as a compressed synopsis, partly because I was previously advised that it should NOT read like cover copy.”

    Mary, you aren’t the only one who’s been advised like this. I’ve always been under the impression a pitch (or even a query) should not read like cover copy, and that it should be condensed in such a way the professional editor or agent isn’t left in the lurch about anything. In other words, when agents and editors read or listen to pitches and queries they are thinking, “do I think I can sell this, and will people be interested in reading it,” rather than “I like the way this sounds, and I can’t wait to read the rest to see what happens”.

    Personally, I prefer Kristin’s approach…it’s interesting, challenging and makes something very frustrating a lot of fun (I think it works, too). But not everyone agrees with this and writers need to research individual agencies (and agents) to get a feel for what they want. It’s the only way to keep from making serious mistakes when there are so many conflicting opinions and requirements out there.

  6. Anonymous said:

    I’m the anon@9:07 above. I just wanted to make one more thing clear so people don’t get the wrong idea. Thanks to Kristin’s workshops here, and a lot of practice on my part, I actually made an unagented pitch to an editor with a good NY publisher based on one of Kristin’s posts this past week, and I received a request for a full from the editor. I was drop dead shocked, never expected this, and I owe a huge thank you to Kristin Nelson.

  7. Mary said:

    Anonymous: I too prefer Kristin’s approach. As you said, not all agents and editors would agree, but I feel it better suits my work.

    I think it has to come down to the best the writer can do, the best way to ‘sell’ their particular novel.

    This is such a subjective business, with many differing opinions. So of course we must be flexible, but we can be adaptive only to a certain point.

    And, wow! Congratulations!

  8. Beth said:

    Hre’s another vote for analyzing a pitch for a fantasy novel, traditional or epic rather than urban/contemporary, and possibly one with multiple storylines.

  9. Alice Audrey said:

    Where did I go wrong with this one? Should I take out the bit about the pets? Work on action verbs? Tell more of the story? Tell less? Any guidance would be gratefully appreciated.

    Mar Dunbaughro is the kind of girl who thinks nothing of diving into a vat of pickle brine while fleeing gun toting criminals, or taking care of other people’s creepy pets, but accidentally riding an elephant downtown has made her a laughingstock, not to mention racking up a mint in damages. Otherwise she would never have taken the case that resulted in pretending to be a stripper to get into reclusive Zack Pennimon’s apartment.

    Zack likes to keep a low profile, but he’s practically imprisoned himself since learning the two men who murdered his father when he was a child have escaped and are gunning for him. He watched them take his father off the street in front of him, and now he sees Mar walking out of his building and literally into their arms. He can’t talk her into staying in his modern fortress until he hires her as his bodyguard. If only he hadn’t asked her to be his love slave first.

  10. Deanna said:

    I think you’ve done a wonderful job with these workshops, and I’ve been forwarding your suggestions on to my writing group. I don’t write fantasy, but some of my friends to, so I think it would round it out very nicely.

  11. jjdebenedictis said:

    Kristin, I note you’ve added these Blog Pitch Workshops to the the sidebar. May I suggest you also add the Tuesday, Oct. 23rd entry as well? You give a nice overview of your premise in that one.


  12. Anonymous said:

    To Alice Audrey — I’m a novelist and teacher of writing (so what do I know, eh? [grin]). My reaction to your pitch is that the first sentence is too long and complex. I tested the theory in MSWord: word count for that sentence? 50! Try smashing it up into sentence fragments of varying length. The sample under discussion uses them to great effect.

  13. Carradee said:

    @ Alice Audrey, reading your pitch, it sounds too… unfocused. There are some points of focus in there, with some details evidently meant to show the character. Tighten those details.

    For example, “Mar Dunbaughro is the kind of girl who thinks nothing of diving into a vat of pickle brine while fleeing gun toting criminals, or taking care of other people’s creepy pets, but accidentally riding an elephant downtown has made her a laughingstock, not to mention racking up a mint in damages” could become something more like, “Diving into a vat of pickly brine to flee gun toting criminals doesn’t bother Mar Dunbaughro, but the snickers that follow her since her accidental elephant ride through downtown are another story.”

    Eh, even that could use work, but do you see what I mean? You don’t need a lot to get the “mood” across.

    I hope this helps!


  14. paul_k said:

    Thanks for the great blog Kristin; I have learned a lot. It also saddens me that you will not be able to represent me. It would have been an honor. Thanks to you, however, I’ll be better equipped in the future. (If only I could get that Query Letter thing down pat. I hate Query Letters – it’s bad enough getting my manuscript rejected – now it’s my querries that get rejected. LOL)