Pub Rants

Blog Pitch Workshop (Part XI)

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STATUS: TGIF! And I have some major client reading that I need to accomplish this weekend.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HEAVEN by Los Lonely Boys

Time for Fantasy. I don’t think I’m going to tackle an epic one today. It’s Friday after all and my brain likes to shut down for the weekend right about now.

But here’s a good example from a novel that I happen to like from fantasy master Lois McMaster Bujold.

The half-mad Prince Boleso has been slain by a noblewoman he had intended to defile — and Lord Ingrey kin Wilfcliff must transport the body to its burial place and the accused killer, the Lady Ijada, to judgment. With the death of the old Hallow King imminent and the crown in play, the road they must travel together is a dangerous one. And though he is duty-bound to deliver his prisoner to an almost certain death, Ijada may be the only one Ingrey dares trust. For a monstrous malevolence holds the haunted lord in its sway — and a great and terrible destiny has been bestowed upon him by the gods, the damned, and the dead.

Now let’s analyze:

1. The back cover copy is five sentences.

2. The first sentence is exactly what sets the story in motion. A bad dude was killed by a Lady and now she must be transported to face her jugdment.

3. The next sentence gives us the slightly broader picture. A King is about to die and who will inherit is in question. Why that makes the road a dangerous one isn’t that clear but heck, not everything needs to be spelled out. I wouldn’t have minded a bit more info though.

4. With the next sentence, we learn that our hero has got a problem. He has to take the prisoner to her death but she is also the only person he can trust. What comes next pretty much hints at why. Lord Ingrey is possessed by something evil (got have that in fantasy) and that of course has to tie in to some greater destiny.

The last bit taps into the more generic elements of fantasy (I must admit) but the first part is what made me buy this book when I was at Archon in St. Louis and just browsing the bookseller stall.

One thing I do want to point out is that this book is the third in a connected series (The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of souls) by McMaster Bujold so the publisher doesn’t have to work as hard on the cover copy because there are already fans for this author.

If you are writing a debut fantasy, you don’t have that luxury. You have to work harder on your pitch than what the back cover copy does for an established writer.

I do hope that makes sense because I’m done for the day. Have a good weekend.

27 Responses

  1. Deb said:

    Fans?? Bujold is one of nine names in my personal pantheon of writing heroes. When she releases something, my Visa pops outta my wallet like a bagel from a toaster. I wanna be her when I grow up.

  2. Makoiyi said:

    Wow. Now that is one I would read. Actually sent shivers down my spine, and I do love Bujold, but I’d read it anyway for that cover.

  3. Anonymous said:

    Yech. Who wrote this? Sentences that run on. How about a little consideration for rhythm? And Monstrous malevolence? Jeesus.

    How about a slight paring back:

    The half-mad Prince Boleso has been slain by the noblewoman he had intended to defile — and Lord Ingrey kin Wilfcliff must transport the body to its burial place. He must also bring the accused killer, the Lady Ijada, to judgment. With old Hallow King soon to die and the crown in play, the road Ingray and Ijada must travel together is a dangerous one. He is duty-bound to deliver his prisoner to an almost certain death, but Ijada may be the only one Ingrey dares trust. A dreadful malevolence holds the haunted lord in its sway — and a great and terrible destiny has been bestowed upon him by the gods, the damned, and the dead.

  4. D. Robert Pease said:

    You say this is not “Epic” fantasy. I’d be interested in seeing an epic fantasy, and what makes it different from just plain fantasy.

    I am really getting a lot out of these by the way. Thanks for all the hard work.

  5. Valerie Comer said:

    I’d love to see a pitch for a more current stand-alone, if possible. I’m particularly interested in the fantasy pitch, but with this being in the midst of a series, it doesn’t help as much as I’d hoped.

    Thank you! I’ve learned a lot here in the past couple weeks.

  6. Carradee said:

    Like anonymous @ 6:04pm, this blurb made me go “Ew! Put that on my ‘don’t read’ list.” And it’s not the dark element (I write things that are probably worse)—it’s the way it’s written. I was at first intrigued by the murder then found that interest… murdered.

    Um, as a bit of a suggestion for a fantasy blurb people might want to look at, there’s Poison Study.

    What the writer accomplished despite the first person perspective stuns me: she built a scene so the reader understands the actuality of an action, which is the absolute reverse of what the narrator thinks it is because her experience with men is so warped.

    Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that the world was as well-built as it could’ve been, so that likely affects the blurb.

    Sorry for that pretty off-topic comment; that’s just what I thought of when I was looking at this post and didn’t care for it, much.

    Have a restful weekend!

  7. Anonymous said:

    The thing I most like about the writing life is the comraderie and mutual respect. Really, it’s so nice to see appreciation for success instead of the usual carping by folk trying to be the smartest guy in the room.

    Very interesting blog, btw. Thanks for your efforts.

  8. Anonymous said:

    I agree with anon 6:04. This could have been better. Much better. Too many weird names and such. I like anon’s re-write better.

    Just goes to show you that it’s all subjective and also, we can all do better, all the time.

  9. Anonymous said:

    I mean no disrespect to the author,AT ALL, and certainly the book is better than the jacketcopy describes.

    But, Egads, are you kidding?

    I had to read your breakdown just to figure out a dead body was the inciting incident. Had this been a query it would’ve been tossed out in three seconds, with a huh? Who the heck are these stranged-named people and why do I care?

    Cliched and hazy sentences and phrases like, “The road they travel together is a dangerous one.” And, “For a monsterous malevolence holds the haunted lord in its sway,” mean nothing, offer no specifics, and don’t do anything to let a potential reader connect with a character or situation.

  10. Emily said:

    Thanks for the analysis. I agree it could have used more specifics. Makes me wonder why Bujold couldn’t just write her own jacket copy, though, since she’s such a good writer.

  11. Anonymous said:

    As a published author I read this and barfed. In so many sad sad ways, this is the expected cover blurb and pitch. Generic, banal and cliched. And in most cases you won’t find better content between the book covers. Unfortunately, this is what sells.

    As an experiment I took part in a competition a year ago for query pitches. I put forward 3 written in this style. Yes – they all were shortlisted and one won. It was the saddest day of my life to see what the industry standard had become. Sadly, it is driven by lowering standards.

    The public expects and is given pulp, generic fantasy. Any publisher that says they are looking for ‘unique’ is fooling you. They aren’t. You only have to look at what is on the bookshelves.

    I’ve seen some brilliant writing from fellow pro authors just mouldering, yet they can sell generic, cliched stuff easily. In one case the feedback from beta readers for an unpublished ms was intense with comments such as -‘This is the type of book readers hope they’ll find when they go to a bookstore, but never do’, and ‘This is the sort of story that readers crave’, etc.

    The author refuses to sub this work because they can’t think of a publisher who would actually break out of the mold and publish something good.

    I sit in dismay because I would pull all my teeth with pliers without anaesthetic to have written such a work. To imagine it moldering . . . I have no words.

    But it’s not the only top class MS that might never see the light of day. There’s another by another pro author that is part of a series. Equally great. Equally rivetting. Equally unsellable. (This author has tried but can’t get it past pitch stage) Why?

    Well – obviously, she hasn’t framed a quality work in the banal, cliched terms that agents and editors require.

    I’ve read a lot of manuscripts. Some have gone on to be published and even won awards and been bestsellers in various spheres. But the best works I’ve read are still languishing in trunks, because they are beyond the standard of storytelling publishers want, and that agents feed to publishers. They are also the stories ‘readers crave’ and ‘hope they’ll find when they go to a bookstore’, but won’t. Instead, they have to make do with what is made available, such as the example given here.

    As an author, I have to beg – please don’t blame the authors for inane cover blurbs. Most of the time they are in no way responsible. Publishers are aiming for a very low standard of common denominator in the reading market. ie. they think readers wan the following: a heroine in distress, a hero with a past to come to her rescue, preferably with a destiny, and a BIG BAD. If you can offer that, you’re 75% on your way to getting published.

    The fact that readers want SO MUCH MORE is irrelevant to publishers. Readers are forced to make do with what is on the shelf. They want fantasy, and will buy what’s on offer in the forlorn hope that it will be a worthwhile read, which it so often is not.

    What they don’t realise is that the stuff they WANT to read, is never going to be made available.

  12. Beth said:

    anon 5:07 said The author refuses to sub this work

    Forgive me, but how foolish. What has s/he got to lose?

    I agree with others that this particular blurb is sub-par. It starts out all right, but becomes very vague. However–having read the book, I’d say that anything more specific runs the risk of adding spoilers. That said, what got me to read this book (besides that fact that Bujold wrote it, which is really all the enticement I needed) was the opening page. It totally hooked me.

    I would dearly love to see Kristin analyze the back cover copy of GRR Martin’s The Game of Thrones. Worst cover copy ever. I’m glad I decided to ignore it one day and actually read the book–and discovered one of the best fantasy series ever. But it’s a multi-character, multi-plot story, and difficult in encapsulate, particularly since there is no single main character.

  13. Deb said:

    Purple prose aside, it’s highly unlikely Bujold wrote this. It’s not her voice, for one thing: her style is highly practical and doesn’t lend itself to alliterative overkill.

    Small press authors write their own back-cover copy, so you can blame us for that. But not the big-names. Blame someone at Vast Amorphous Publishing, Inc., who DREAMS of writing in the quality Bujold produces.

  14. Anonymous said:

    *But it’s a multi-character, multi-plot story, and difficult in encapsulate, particularly since there is no single main character.*

    Which of course leads to the next question, if you have a multi-character, multi-plot story, how do you pitch that? Obviously you have to pick one thread you think the agent/editor will like – but what if you pick the wrong one? Can you keep subbing the same ms using a different pitch each time until you happen upon the one that rings a bell with them? What a pain.

  15. Deb said:

    Anon 7:55, in your position you look at your MS, ask, “What’s the story question?”, find out what it is if you’re not quite firm about it, and pitch that. Every story has a question, or should (I’ve unfortunately read some that don’t seem to have one), so with a multi, you may want to go with that instead of a character or thread.

    My take.

  16. randy said:

    Got to go with the naysayers on this one. This cover blurb wouldn’t get me to plunk down the cash to take it home.

    The proliferation of fantasy names is too great. If I buy the book, I’ll learn the names myself.

    There isn’t anything interesting about the bare bones of the plot sketched out by the blurb. Scumbag dies while trying to molest heroine. Hero has to transport body and heroine for burial and trial (huh?), malevolent mischief by massive mob of malingering miscreants ensues. Seems like a nice, bland, vanilla fantasy tale… the likes of which sells purely on the merit of the name Lois McMaster Bujold printed in big fat letters across the bottom of the cover.

    A slight nod to the angry anonymous fellow far above… I don’t doubt that there are plenty of unknown and unpublished writers who are currently sitting on better stories than this one, but the law of the jungle states that someone acknowledged as a “fantasy master” can sell whatever they churn out in three months because it will sell. Period.

  17. Anonymous said:

    Epic fantasy is written by writers who have an editor and a big publishing house firmly planted in their corner. Epic is big– big word count, big cast, big world. It’s a large book that either covers a huge span of years or covers a short period of time in agonizing detail. If you’ve written an epic and you don’t already have an interested publisher, it’s not going to sell. The last post relates to this phenomenon. Big names can sell big books. The number of new writers who publish massive tomes is small (the person who wrote “The Historian” is one, “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” is another> didn’t read the first, but the second is like reading “Moby Dick” backwards, through a few layers of celophane).

  18. Beth said:

    Anon 7:55 said: Which of course leads to the next question, if you have a multi-character, multi-plot story, how do you pitch that? Obviously you have to pick one thread you think the agent/editor will like

    Which is exactly what I did–though not so much the one I thought an agent would like, but the one that forms the backbone of the story,and the most complete arc.

  19. Anonymous said:

    Sorry to do this to you all, but I’m alone in the bathroom staring at the mirror, and there are way too many self righteous kiss-asses at the party for me to bear.

    Jon Bromfield, Jon Bromfield, Jon Bromfield.

    May God have mercy on your souls.

  20. Locksley said:

    This post was originally about what one professional agent thought would be a good example of what agents prefer.

    I believe the reason you see common expressions (cliches)in some queries or blurbs where space is limited is because everybody gets it. The cliche often gets it start when someone finds a short but precise way of explaining something. I’ll bet you won’t find the author’s work cliche ridden. Tell me, am I off base here. Make my day. I just reread the piece, but didn’t see any very common expressions, just incisive, often heard words.

    On another subject, I think a multi-character/plot novel must have a common thread or frame. So I would state the frame and show some of the char/plot lines via vignettes (because of limited space).

  21. deb said:

    Thank you! I was struggling with how to write my query letter. This helped me tremendously. Thank you again.

  22. Anonymous said:

    I am a new writter who has never been published by anyone. I am still a bit confused as to what an agent is looking for in a query. Is it just a concept of what the book is about, or is it actually something else. Please let me know because I do believe that i have something good here

  23. Jacquelynn said:

    When you write a queary it needs to be clear and to the point. Preferably quite short as well.

    What we as writers spend uncountable agonizing hours defining a masterpiece!, must be turned into a paragraph that describe what, why, how, and then “the end” (The who doesn’t always matter).

    However it should not read as such. It should be riviting and it should make anyone not just an agent WANT to read the book.

    Never leave any agent guessing, they don’t have time to guess. Leave a question as to what happens and you’ll be left questioning why no one has asked for the manuscript yet.


  24. Shell said:

    I am just wondering when you should start looking for an agent. I am about half-way through my book, and can’t decide on a title yet. I have heard it can take a very long time to find an agent and get published, so I thought I would get started now, to save some time. After reading you blogs, however, I’m not sure if I should maybe wait until I’m done to be able to write a good enough query letter.
    I was hoping to get published not too terribly long after I finished writing it. Is this a vain hope, or do you think it would be possible? Thank you for any help you can be.

  25. P.I. Barrington said:

    Hi Kristin! My question is a little different: I did not see any pitch workshop on science fiction–is there not one or did I miss something?
    Thanks so much!

  26. Anonymous said:

    I just have a quick question, should i have my MS copywritted before sending it to an agent?