Pub Rants

Blog Pitch Workshop (Part X)

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STATUS: I’m having a good week. Working hard. Getting stuff done. No fires that need to be doused. This is so not normal that I’m just enjoying it.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MY GIRL BACK HOME by John Kerr (South Pacific soundtrack)

Okay. We got a request for a romantic suspense blurb analysis. Piece o’ cake. Let’s take a look at Allison Brennan’s THE PREY—her debut romantic suspense that landed her pretty quickly on the New York Times Bestseller list.

THE PREY by Allison Brennan
Rowan Smith is living in a borrowed Malibu beach house while her bestselling novel is made into a Hollywood movie. A former FBI agent with a haunted past, Rowan thinks she has outrun her demons. But fiction and reality collide when a dismembered body is found in Colorado: the real-life victim had the same name, occupation, and looks as a character in Rowan’s novel. By the time the FBI, the LAPD, and her own private bodyguard gather around her, another person is killed—again, the murder ripped from the pages of Rowan’s book.

In the company of a former Delta Force officer with secrets of his own, Rowan faces an excruciating dilemma: the only way to chase down the tormenting killer is by revisiting the darkness of her past—and by praying for some way out again.

Now let’s analyze:

1. This back cover copy is 5 sentences. This is the shortest I think we’ve seen in all my workshops. Another powerful example that a writer can be concise and still write good pitch.

2. The first sentence sets the scene. Simple. Useful. Gives us a framework.

3. In the second sentence, we are introduced to the main heroine. Interesting background since she is a former FBI agent and obviously has a few skeletons in her closet. No need to reveal what as that will become clear as we read.

4. The next sentence is her hook—it’s what makes this romantic suspense different from the myriad of RS novels already out there, and it’s quite original to boot. I get chills just reading it.

5. The final sentence of this paragraph ups the ante. The killer has a pattern and Rowan is definitely linked to it.

6. The next paragraph is the final sentence of the cover copy. It introduces the hero (however briefly) and that’s fine because the focus needs to be on the suspense. We also get a little teaser for what is at stake for the heroine. She has to face something dark (probably ugly) in her past to stop the killer.

Romantic suspense is pretty straight forward. All of them will have similar elements but what makes this one stand out is #4 in this analysis—her high concept element. It’s original.

Most of the time I receive queries where the heroine is being stalked or her life is in danger (of course!) and then the hero character has to save her. Seriously, most of what we receive is that generic in the pitch. There’s no spotlight on the original vehicle for the shaping of the story. In this example, the original concept is the former FBI writer who is being stalked by a killer who reads and models his crimes after her novels.


We want that original hook so we’ll ask for sample pages for your romantic suspense. Tomorrow I’ll take a stab at fantasy.

11 Responses

  1. jjdebenedictis said:

    I’ve been studying Kristin’s examples and I think I’ve figured out why concentrating on the story’s inciting incident is so powerful in a pitch.

    It’s simply that the inciting incident–the event that kick-starts all the havoc in your novel–is the one event that convinces a reader to plough through 300 more pages to find out what happens. In light of that fact, of course it’s also the perfect thing to focus on when you’re trying to convince an agent to read your book. Nothing else should even be necessary.

    However, I’ve also noticed most of these pitches contain at least one sentence that makes you envision all the things that could happen in the rest of the novel. (In today’s example, it’s the last sentence.)

    Everything that comes before that line is usually setup to give that one sentence maximum impact, and to make all the possibilities it hints at bloom in your imagination. Rather than saying what happens in the book, the pitch should make you grasp all things that might happen–and hopefully make you curious about which ones actually do.

  2. krw3b said:

    Romantic suspense is not my genre AT ALL, so I may be showing my proverbial undies here, but…

    where is the romance in that blurb? It briefly mentions a male character, but it’s a bit, well, steam-less.

    Otherwise, the copy is compelling. Suspenseful, yes. Sexy…er, not so much.

    Is that simply the way it’s done and I just don’t know any better? Because that would be fine. I’m just curious.

  3. Anonymous said:

    Oh, man, this blurb seems so generic. If I were an agent I wouldn’t be able to reject it fast enough. And as a reader, I won’t be buying it. Yawn.

    Just goes to show how subjective this whole biz is.

  4. Anonymous said:

    Could you do a romantic suspense pitch that has a higher percentage of romance than suspense? I’ve read Brennan and I occasionally visit her blog, and she’s stated that her balance of suspense to romance skews heavier towards the suspense.

  5. Allison Brennan said:

    Hi Kristin, I’m glad you liked the back cover copy! I’ve been very happy with what Ballantine writes, I usually only make a couple changes when they send me the draft.

    FWIW, when I sent my query letter to my now-agent, the first line was something like, “Former FBI Agent turned crime fiction writer wakes up to discover her books are being used as blueprints for murder.” My agent requested the full off a one-page query.

    To anon 8:11: it’s true that my books tend to lean heavier on the suspense side, but there is always a romance in them. For other examples you can check out the back cover copy of a couple fabulous RS writers who write heavier on the romance side while still providing a solid suspense: Roxanne St. Claire and Cindy Gerard come to mind immediately.

  6. Anonymous said:

    Thanks for doing this critique. It just so happens I’m a huge fan of Allison Brennan.

    I am interested in hearing your reply about the fact there was no romance mentioned in the pitch. I’ve had my romantic suspense query critiqued and was told I needed to add that element, even though my story is based more on what’s happening to the protagonist. The romance is a subplot. Thanks again.

  7. Zany Mom said:

    Thanks! This blurb will definitely help me write the pitch for my current WIP. With a hero and heroine, I often can’t seem to pick which one to focus on, as they both have a lot at stake. This helps clarify that a LOT.

    And it sounds like I’ve found a new suspense author to read, to boot! 😀

  8. Mary said:

    I really appreciate Allison Brennan sharing the first line of the pitch from her query. It’s a brilliant sentence, and so interesting to see alongside the equally brilliant cover copy and Kristin’s analysis.

  9. Anonymous said:

    Wow, I would have thought this would be pitched as a murder mystery. I am now going to try marketing a similar one of mine (which includes lots of romance) as romantic suspense! Who knew?

  10. Anonymous said:

    Wow. I’m a romance reader– gobble them up– and I wouldn’t buy this…. its not a romance, according to the blurb.

    Subjective, definitely.