#pitchShredding: Sodality

2012-Jun-19 -> from the perfect-pitches department Tags: #pitchshredding 

For my own sake, and the sake of my readers, I apply a certain amount of formatting to the pitches that get submitted. This isn't always how they come in, however. Any time you submit a pitch to an agent or editor, it is imperative that you apply proper spacing to your paragraphs so as to avoid the resulting big block of text if you do not.

Here is today's offering:

Dear Literary Agent,


Ira's job would be much easier if it weren't for freewill.

Ira is a Junior Angel and newest to the Watch House. Usually, Watchers are assigned to three Wights, but Ira must keep constant watch only over Shannon. Better yet, Adaia came along a few years back to help out. Piece of cake, right?

Seems so, but the Fallen suddenly take interest in Shannon; Dameon and Agiel are most annoying. The Demons taunt and tempt her, and Ira is left powerless because of freewill.

Since her mother died when she was ten, Shannon has felt out of place, and moving on to the most populated high school in Washington State doesn't make it any easier.

When Shannon's friends talk her into going to a party, she doesn't realize that it involves more than music and laughter. Alcohol and drugs are introduced; she crumbles under peer pressure and her crush's boyish grin.

Ira and Adaia are left with the daunting task of getting Shannon on the right path. Shannon has no idea what's at stake. Furthermore, she cannot see or hear the Watchers who protect her, and Ira can only defeat the Demons that stalk Shannon if she resists the temptations they are eagerly supplying.

Can Ira live up to the expectations set before it and save the girl? And just what is it that makes Shannon Walker so important?

Narrated by the young Watcher Ira, SODALITY is a fast-paced, 72,000 word, young adult novel. Young readers will discover a rebellious teenage girl that becomes a strong female protagonist in this heart stopping coming-of-age novel to escape to in their imaginations.


I graduated from University in 2010, receiving a B.A. in English/Language Arts Teaching. SODALITY is my first novel.

I believe that the book is in pretty good shape, and I would love to show you it. Please stay in touch and in the meantime thank you so much for reading my letter.

The first thing I notice with this pitch is -- you guessed it -- the formatting. This pitch came to me pretty much as a big block of text. It was hard to read, and so I formatted it a little better for your sake.

There are a lot of paragraphs in this pitch. Eight paragraphs for the plot, and two for credentials and biography. I would highly recommend streamlining this into fewer paragraphs, which will likely mean condensing the number of words. That alone isn't a bad idea either; 326 words is a bit long for a pitch. I tend to steer people toward no more than 250 words for a good pitch.

As far as substance goes, the author has a lot of details in this pitch, but I think it might be a bit too cluttered. I'm not really sure who this story is supposed to be about until the very end, where it tells me that Ira is the narrator. But even then, there are two major points of view here and I think this pitch only needs one.

In the second-to-last plot paragraph there are two prompts for the reader to consider. I think this should be reduced to only one, and stick to a single point of view here. Use the prompt to really highlight the tension and stakes that you show us with the rest of the pitch.

"Fast-paced", "heart stopping": This is self-review and should not appear in your pitch. Agents and editors already know you love your work, you don't need to tell them.

My last points are in regard to the credentials and bio listed at the end. I highly recommend that you do not tell an agent or editor that it is your first novel unless they ask you directly. Let your work speak for itself. If you tell them in your pitch that it's your first book, it could affect the way they look at your work. The very last paragraph should be cut completely. It's too uncertain and wishy-washy. You want your pitch to be definite and confident.

Discussion

What do you think this author could cut to streamline this pitch and make it grab the reader?

Which point of view do you think is best to use for this particular pitch?

How do you feel about self-review in a pitch?

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9 Comments:


By Rodney Walther on Tue 19 Jun 2012 01:59:19 pm [ Reply ] Someone once said that pitches should be mini-stories. They should hold the reader’s attention, and the reader should be able to follow the progression. Whether the pitch is presented as a huge block of text or (as Thomas has formatted) a series of one-line paragraphs, the reader needs to be led through the unknown. And that’s one of the biggest things that jumps out at me.

I feel like I stumbled onto a guided tour halfway through the hike. I get names such as Shannon, Dameon, and Agiel, but no idea of who they are, what makes them different from each other, or their importance to the story. I find myself reading and re-reading—this is a cardinal sin for pitches. Your reader (an agent, a contest judge, a potential book buyer) won’t be bothered if they can’t easily follow what’s going on. Whatever changes you make—keep this point in mind.

I’d toss Agiel and Dameon from the pitch—they are unimportant (to the pitch, not the story). I’d probably focus on Ira and to a lesser extent on Shannon. Even when talking about Shannon, present it through Ira’s filter. Something like: “Ira knows he must protect Shannon, but the temptations of drugs and booze—and casual sex--make his task almost impossible, as they send her down a path of xxxx.” Your kernel of truth is the line “Ira can only defeat the Demons that stalk Shannon if she resists the temptations they are eagerly supplying.” These are the stakes. If Ira fails, Shannon is lost (and the world she unknowingly impacts will suffer terrible consequences).

A couple more thoughts: (1) don’t use heart-stopping in the description (it’s self-aware and subjective); (2) A letter to an agent must demonstrate confidence without boasting – “I believe the book is in pretty good shape” is wishy-washy and apologetic. Of course, you think it’s in decent shape or you wouldn’t query it. Secondly, “pretty good”? What chef would say, “Eat this meal. It’s *pretty good*.”? Or a politician who says, “Vote for me. I’m *pretty good*.”? Don’t introduce subjectivity at all. Stick to the facts and be professional. Something like “Complete at 72,000 words, SODALITY is available for review. I would appreciate the opportunity to submit several chapters or, if you prefer, the full manuscript. Thank you (blah blah blah).”

Good luck!

By Rodney Walther on Tue 19 Jun 2012 02:03:04 pm [ Reply ] Funny, Thomas, I wrote my comments without looking at yours. Interesting that we both used the term "wishy-washy". :-)

By Thomas A. Knight on Tue 19 Jun 2012 02:04:00 pm [ Reply ] Hey Rodney, thanks for dropping by! You have no idea how much I appreciate your wisdom.

Great minds do think alike, don't they? ;)

By Thomas A. Knight on Tue 19 Jun 2012 02:06:02 pm [ Reply ] For the benefit of the author of this pitch, and all the other readers out there, Rodney Walther is a good friend of mind, and fellow pitch threader from the ABNA contest. He has one eBook out, and has sold more than 17,000 copies of said book, so he has a pretty good grasp of how to sell a book. :)

By Brigid on Tue 19 Jun 2012 06:20:51 pm [ Reply ] Sounds like you have an interesting story here, but there's some issues in how you present it. Sorry if I repeat anything that has already been said … I have a lot of things to say so I probably won't be double-checking for everything. Haha.

First of all, I think the hook needs work. It's just kind of … blah. It doesn't tell us much about the story. It's good that you started with the protagonist's name … that's usually the best thing to do. I just think it needs to be slightly more interesting. For example, if you wrote "Ira's job as an angel would be much easier if it weren't for freewill" that'd give the agent a better sense of what he/she is in for.

Secondly, I agree with Thomas about the formatting. It's just not very aesthetically pleasing. Try to take out unnecessary words and combine paragraphs. Three or so long-ish paragraphs just looks better than a million tiny paragraphs.

Another issue is, I think you present too many names/terms without explaining who/what you're talking about. What's the Watch House? What are Watchers? What are Wights? Who are Shannon, Adaia, Dameon, and Agiel? In general, don't name-drop too much in a pitch. Agents have to skim, and they're not going to remember who everyone is. Try to narrow it down to the most important two or three characters … I'd say probably Ira and Shannon are the most significant. Maybe Adaia as well. But you probably shouldn't mention anyone else.

I'm also a little confused about what the conflict is. Are Ira and Adaia trying to keep Shannon away from drugs? Are the demons somehow influencing her to take drugs/alcohol?

There are also a lot of rhetorical questions. "Piece of cake, right?" "Can Ira live up to the expectations set before it and save the girl? And just what is it that makes Shannon Walker so important?" Try not to ask rhetorical questions. The agent doesn't know the answer, so most likely their mental response will just be "I don't care." Rather than asking rhetorical questions, try to really set the stakes. Instead of asking the agent why Shannon is so important, for example, tell the agent why she is. Because really, why should the agent care if Ira saves Shannon or not? Why is Shannon so significant? What horrible thing will happen if she dies? Remember, this is a pitch and not a description on the inside cover of a book … that is, it's OK to give things away––especially they're vital in explaining important aspects of the story.

In addition, as I believe Thomas and Rodney both said, don't praise your own novel. Calling your novel "fast-paced" and "heart stopping" isn't going to convince the agent … that's something he/she can judge for himself/herself. He/she just wants to know what the story is about.

As for the second-to-last paragraph … I don't think you necessarily have to talk about your degree. I may be wrong, but I think agents tend to care more about whether you've ever published anything or won any awards. If you've done neither, that's fine. Just don't say anything. Same goes for saying "This is my first novel" … don't do it. It's better to say nothing than to accentuate your inexperience.

The last paragraph should just be taken out and replaced with a simple, "Thank you for your time" or something along those lines. Definitely take out "I believe that the book is in pretty good shape, and I would love to show you it." As harsh as it may sound, the agent really doesn't care what "shape" you think your book's in. Not to mention, if you think your book is only in "pretty good" shape, I'm not convinced you should be querying yet at all. Agents want to read polished work, not something that's just "pretty good." Even if you're just being modest, it makes it sound like you're trying to sell something that's not even complete.

Sorry for the lengthy post … and if any of this sounded harsh/rude. (I just like to be blunt, that's all.) But hopefully it's somewhat helpful! Good luck!

By K.L. Layton on Tue 19 Jun 2012 07:12:49 pm [ Reply ] Thank you so much for all of your feedback. I understand everything that is being said. Thank you all so much!

By Gypsy Madden on Wed 20 Jun 2012 12:42:57 am [ Reply ] Not a fan of the one line at the top hanging out there on its own with nothing really connecting to it (it wouldn't be so bad if it connected to the following sentence, but it doesn't). Personally, I think there should be action, right from the beginning. As in, rather than just describing the main character, try to hook the description into an action -like "Junior Angel Ira finds himself watching over Shannon, while all the other angels are trusted with three." (granted, make it a bit more catchy -come to think of it, this was never properly tied anywhere else into the pitch. Why was his only being trusted with one charge such an important item to touch on?). Action is what grabs me, and anything that's just a basic description is going to make me waver on attention span for certain.

Second problem is there are too many proper names in this and some of the things aren't even defined (like, what is a Wight?). I'd consider tossing out the Watch House since it only gets referred to that one time. Same thing with Daemon and Agiel. You've got Ira being referred to as a Junior Angel and then in the very next sentence, he's being referred to as a Watcher(?). Pick one and go with it. The recomended number of proper names is 3-5 (and places and titles count, too).

There's also a troubling time flow problem in the first paragraph. It introduces Ira and then it goes back into the past a few years to grab Adaia.

Personally, I'd consider upping the ante. I mean, it doesn't seem that climactic for a bunch of hooplah to be made over a girl who's just getting tempted by alcohol and drugs.

Finally, I would rethink the sentence "I believe the book is in pretty good shape". Agents don't want to read a book that is in "pretty good shape". They want to read books that are in perfect shape. Besides, the author shouldn't be telling them that. It should be assumed or you wouldn't be submitting it, right?

By Lynda Moonshine Jacobs on Thu 21 Jun 2012 02:17:09 am [ Reply ] A ‘pitch’ is not meant to tell your story … it’s simply to gain the attention and interest of the person you’re pitching. Make them want more!

If you are pitching, keep it short, a few lines, or a couple short paragraphs.

Grab the person you’re pitching, with the first line! Peek their interest—make them want to know more (or at least listen.) Make them request a synopsis. Keep your synopsis short—no more than one page. Make them ask you for a treatment, or to read your story. No matter how much you want to tell your story, be professional, and don’t give away your story in a pitch! ... No errors, and don't try to impress them with your education-- it may just turn them off.


By Lynda Moonshine Jacobs on Thu 21 Jun 2012 02:33:18 am [ Reply ] Oh-- and start by telling what you have. (i.e.) 'Sodality' is a 372 page, fictional story.

~Moonshine

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