Pub Rants

Workshop Epiphany

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STATUS: I’m blogging before 7 pm! It’s a good day then. And great suggestion to make my own evals. I’m hoping I can squeeze that in before I leave on Thursday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHADOW OF THE DAY by Linkin Park

If you are a long time blog reader, y’all know what my workshop epiphany was because I blogged about it for weeks on end (or that’s how it felt like). Probably felt that way to you readers as well! Scroll down the right hand column of my blog until you see Agent Kristin’s blog pitch workshop links. That’s it.

Here’s what happened. I had just given the workshop at RWA (I think it was there) when I realized that I kept repeating to writers that they should make their pitch paragraphs read like the back cover copy of book you’d see in the bookstore or library.

And that got me thinking about how I write my pitches to editors. That got me to my realization that I almost ALWAYS use the catalyst that starts the story, which can be found within the first 30 pages of the novel.

I started analyzing various back cover copies of already published books in a variety of genres and yep, that proved to be true for the cover copy that publishing houses tend to use (with a few exceptions where details from later in the book were also added to the cover copy). The focus, however, was always on that main catalyst that starts the story forward.

By the way, the catalyst is always a plot element—not a character aspect—although back cover copy usually includes character elements as well.

So now I’m revamping my eQuery workshop PowerPoint slides to encompass this. I’ve also moved forward (in the presentation) the hands-on exercise on how to identify the plot catalyst from the opening 30 pages. Then how to craft the paragraph around that element with lots of good supporting details that will give the pitch the most bang for your buck.

Okay, is it geeky of me to be rather excited about trying out this new format for the workshop? Chicago Spring Fling participants, get ready because you are my next guinea pigs.

20 Responses

  1. Melissa Biemans said:

    I wonder the same thing.

    The event that starts my story running is actually something that is told in flash back in chapter 5 or 6.

    I guess, if you were writing a crime mystery, you could start out with the crime scene and go from there…. but for me, the event that starts the story is only spoken about as a past event. Though, if the characters did NOT talk about it, the story could not happen. (Sorry to be mysterious… the story is a mystery and a little hard to explain in this small box (i’m working on it for MY up coming query, so this question is right in line.)


  2. Walt Mussell said:

    It’s not geeky. I do training workshops at my company. Recently, I had to do a presentation and I discovered I could write on the walls of the room where I was presenting. I didn’t tell anyone, leaving it as a surprise. It made for a lively session and kept awake all those who were there becuase their bosses made them take my class.

  3. Amy Nathan said:

    I’m very curious because I have no idea what plot catalyst means! How’s that for honest? I will be one of the guinea pigs in your workshop this weekend.

  4. Julie Weathers said:

    Kristen, Merry Montleone is hosting a query letter workshop. I have to admit I was haunting your examples and advice as I tried to revise it.

    The one piece of advice I kept coming back to, was picking out the plot point from the first fifty pages that incites the story.

    The king’s last guard is murdered in the opening chapter, but the mc doesn’t meet the senile wizard until later. Even so, I think it will work.

    The kind ladies at Merry’s were extraordinary in their advice, including recommending your comments.

    For me, anyway, focusing on that beginning point helped greatly as I was lost as a goose in a snow storm.



  5. Gina Black said:

    Hey, I’m excited and I won’t get to see any of your workshops until National (and by then I’ll be pitching). This is *very* helpful. 🙂

  6. Amy Addison said:

    There’s nothing geeky about being excited about your work! The best teachers are excited about their work.

    I think it’s wonderful.

    After all, aren’t the stories authors are clearly excited about the ones that resonate most with you?

    So, be excited!

  7. Julia W. said:

    I’m about a month from crafting my first query letter – so for me this post is well-timed! Thanks for the advice.

  8. Deb said:

    Man! Spring Fling is my old RWA chapter’s event. Though I no longer belong to RWA, maybe I’ll drift up that way come Saturday…

  9. Pam Halter said:

    Of course it’s geeky, but who cares? 😉 Anything you find to make a workshop better is good because that means more people are learning to be better writers.

    I, for one, am glad to know that you are still learning new stuff. If we think we know it all, we’ll never get better at what we do.

  10. Anonymous said:

    It’s not geeky because it’s important and you like what you do. Writing a good query IS very important. Not as important as a good manuscript. But it’s the first step to getting published.

  11. Margaret said:

    Sounds great.
    Have you ever posted “the hands-on exercise on how to identify the plot catalyst from the opening 30 pages.”

    Would sure like to see that!

  12. V said:

    I liked watching you pick apart the pitches. I’m very glad you did in on your blog where I could watch.

  13. Aimless Writer said:

    Something you said here just gave me a great idea on how to change my pitch. The catalyst int he opening…how did I miss this!

    When Riley Margate returns to the town that hates her…
    hmmm, I have to work on this now.

    I love the excitement in your post! Wish I was in Chicago!

  14. Wakai Writer said:

    Thanks for sharing, Kristin. Your advice is great as always, and someday after I’m rich and famous I’ll thank you publicly, I promise. 🙂

    Though perhaps now is the time to bring up how sad it makes me everytime I click the link to “Blog Pitch Workshop (Part XI–fantasy)” and immediately read “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.” ;-p

    Perhaps someday you’ll give epic fantasy a shot for us?

  15. Paty Jager said:

    I wish I could go to the conference. I could use a boost with my blurb, especially since I am actively seeking an agent.

    Good luck!

  16. Anonymous said:

    The “plot catalyst” isn’t a new concept. It’s been around forever in screenwriting and usually happens in the first ten pages of a movie script.

    Read Syd Field’s screenwriting book, the Foundations of Screenwriting.

    The structure and plot points he lays out are useful in novel writing as well. In his book he calls it the “inciting incident” but it’s the same thing you’re talking about — a plot cataylist.

  17. Francine Sharp said:

    Anonymous 6:47am is right, but still, it’s good to spread the word.

    I just read the back of The Da Vinci Code, and sure enough, plot catalyst/inciting incident is exactly what those two paragraphs sum up. It also manages to squeeze in something I’m calling “the deadline”: The time frame in which the heroes have to set things right or else lose whatever’s at stake. Specifically, it says, “Unless Langdon and Neveu can decipher the labyrinthine puzzle– while avoiding the facelss adversary who shadows their every move– the explosive, ancient truth will be lost forever.”

    No wonder so many people bought the book! 😉

  18. Manic Mom said:

    It was SOOOO not geeky and I was thrilled to be able to be one of your guinea pigs at the Spring Fling conference.

    Even though I’m already agented, I learned SO MUCH about the pitch paragraph and utilized Kristen’s tips to put together an eight-sentence blurb for a YA book I had been working on but hadn’t even thought about for six months! (I went there thinking about another book I was working on.)


    Thanks Kristin!!