Revising the Pitch—A Writer’s Show and Tell

ImageBefore I take out my humble red pencil and oversized eraser, I’ve got two exciting announcements to make.

First, the winner of Diana Quincy’s new release “Seducing Charlotte” is Nicole Doran! Congrats, Nicole!

Second, we are thrilled to announce a new member of The Violet Femmes: RoseAnn DeFranco! RoseAnn writes both Contemporary and YA Fantasy, and her wonderful, Jersey Shore-set romances are soon to be published with The Wild Rose Press. She is smart, generous, hardworking; and she makes a mean meatball, too. Suffice it to say, we are honored that RoseAnn will make us six!

Now, to work. I really struggled with the pitch for my current manuscript UnhingedEarly attempts yielded this monstrosity:

After finding herself and her teenage son nearly homeless after her rat of an ex wiped her out and then abandoned them, Evie Radnor’s entire focus revolves around creating a safe, stable, flush environment. To this end, she’s determined to both help others and grow her fledging business, which helps at risk homeless and their families secure jobs, without the help of a man. The first big turning point for her—a contract with Miller’s Markets.

Aiden Miller, known as the Midas of Markets, is suffocating, even suffering panic attacks despite his active lifestyle under the yolk of the family business. He’s relocated to the Poconos to avoid stress —only between a drug-dealer operating out of his store, some new homeless hires to look out for, and an unwanted attraction to their employer, who reminds him far too much of his extremist do-gooder mother, the pressure keeps building.

Ugh, right? Keep reading—I promise it gets better. Revised pitch:

A financially-devastated single mother, Evie Radnor, is determined to get back on her feet and follow her dreams along the way. Yet, as soon a she secures her first promising contract for her non-profit start-up, she and her homeless clients become targets of sabotage. Though she desperately wants to go it alone, Evie is forced to accept help—from a man that sets off every one of her warning bells.

Aiden Miller, the stressed out owner of a successful chain of high-end markets yearns to get out of the family business. However, between the illegal activity operating out of his Poconos store and new at-risk employees to protect, he’s more stuck than ever. Even worse, escalating pranks on Eve—his all-too attractive, but all wrong for him business associate—seem to originate awfully close to home.

As the attacks turn vicious and the stakes become life threatening, Evie and Aiden must risk it all for love.

There are numerous problems with the original. First and foremost, this book is supposed to be a romantic suspense, yet the only mention of romance for the heroine is her attitude of succeeding “without a man.” That leaves a big leap of faith for an editor to make. The second go round is better: Though she desperately wants to go it alone, Evie is forced to accept help—from a man that sets off every one of her warning bells.” It incorporates where she’s starting emotionally, the level of her resistance, and a bit of oooh, the attraction rocks, despite the fact that he’s all wrong for her.

Also, in my attempt to paint oomph onto the canvas, I’ve got an overwhelming amount of detail, unwieldy lists, and too many adjectives. Case in point: “a safe, stable, flush environment.” Um, no. In trying to convey all the important parts of the story (the wants, needs, background, careers, motivations), I seem to have sloshed paint right over the frame as well.

It’s incredibly hard to boil the story you’ve slaved over for a year into two or three measley paragraphs. Nearly impossible, for some of us. I couldn’t have done it (certainly not so quickly) without help. My suggestions: Ask your critique partners for feedback. Ask beta readers whether it sounds like back cover copy that might make them buy that book. Heck, corner your friends and see if their eyes glaze over or sparkle with interest. Additionally, tackle the pitch well before you need it, and keep it on a note in your phone or a slip of paper in your purse, so you aren’t caught at a conference like I was—with an opportunity, but an empty notecard and even blanker brain. My friend Kristina took one look at my harried attempts, and voila, came up with the term “financially-devastated single mother.” Which, of course, conveys so very much, so simply, in so little space.

Finally, make sure to mention the stakes no matter which genre you are writing in. Emotional stakes for a romance. World-imploding stakes for a thriller. Extinction of a clan or way of life in a paranormal. In a romantic suspense, of course, you need both the level of danger and an idea of the romantic risk. My first stab the pressure keeps building” basically stinks, as it gives no clues whatsoever toward the romance stakes, the suspense level, or the culmination of either.

Better (and again, thank you, Kristina!): As the attacks turn vicious and the stakes become life-threatening, Evie and Aiden must risk it all for love.”

Please comment and share your strategies for judging and perfecting your pitches. I need all the help I can get!

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11 Comments

  1. RoseAnn DeFranco

     /  April 30, 2013

    Nice transformation on your pitch and THANK YOU for the warm welcome. I’m thrilled to be here! I love the suggestion to ask critique partners and beta readers for input on things like pitches, blurbs, and synopsis. Sometimes I think our readers see more clearly the important elements to a story whereas to the writer EVERYTHING is important! Something that helped me a while back was a blog post by Femmes Michele on writing the perfect pitch. For me, the most important element is – Who are the Hero/Heroine? What does the protagonist want most and what obstacles does he/she face? What are the consequences of their choices/desires and the resulting conflict? But let’s face it, pitches are just plain HARD to write, let alone remember and pull out of your hat at a moment’s notice! Well done. Glad Kristina was there to help you out!

    Reply
  2. Jenna Blue

     /  April 30, 2013

    Thanks, RoseAnn! I had forgotten that Michele had done a perfect pitch blog…I’ll have to go back and look. These are the things another lesson can never hurt though–practice makes perfect and so do our valuable writing friends! I agree completely–everything seems important when it’s your story!
    You are most welcome for the welcome! And again, so happy you are officially now here with us! : )

    Reply
  3. Welcome RoseAnn! We’re so excited to have you along for this crazy ride.

    Great post, Jenna. One can never spend enough time revising a pitch, IMO. Once I gave a pitch, got 1/2 way through and the agent said, “Okay, that was the sentence you should have led with because that is what makes your story unique.”

    Think about what makes your story unique and make it your opening!

    Also, I think the advice of the WHEN, THEN, BUT is a good place to start with a pitch. “When this happened, then that happened, but something even worse happened.”

    It’s funny because agent Laura Bradford did a series of tweets today about pitches. She said as long as you’re reasonably competent and the story is in a genre they rep, most agents will ask for material. She also said do not hand them anything at the conference. It’s only more for them to carry later on.

    Reply
    • Jenna Blue

       /  April 30, 2013

      Oh, man, who knew I was pitted against Laura Bradford today! Ack! I’d have bowed out if I could–you should all go read her tweets instead! : )
      I’d forgot that about When, Then, But. Fab advice, Joanna, thank you!

      Reply
  4. Welcome RoseAnn! Thanks for wanting to join us. Between you and Michele, you’ll bring a whole new dynamic of blogs on getting published.

    Thanks for putting your before and after pitch out there, Jenna. Your revised version is definitely better. Both writing the synopsis and the pitch are pain points for me as well. I think the key is to get right to the point and keeping it simple. Focus on the hook of your story and the conflict that will H/H will need to overcome in order to achieve their happily-ever-after. Also, only include the H/H perspectives, no secondary characters. I made that mistake when I first pitched Love’s Second Chance and was denied a request. Nice job.

    Reply
  5. Jenna Blue

     /  May 1, 2013

    Thanks, Maria! Good point: keep it simple. Lead with the basic conflict. That certainly would help me keep from throwing everything but the kitchen sink in!

    Reply
  6. Welcome, RoseAnn! We are so thrilled to have you join us. I can’t wait for your first blog post as an official Femme!

    Pitches, ugh! Well, it’s been awhile for me, Jenna, so all of the reminders and tips in the comments are truly helpful.

    I actually have found that I’m most successful pitching when I just wing it! (I know, I know…) Reading from a note card means you aren’t making eye contact. I’m much more comfortable when I am looking the “pitchee” in the eyes and I’m telling them my story from my heart. That doesn’t mean I don’t initially write a pitch. A written pitch helps ensure I hit all the salient points. It’s just that, once it’s written and I’ve gone over it a few times, I know what I really need to say.

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  May 2, 2013

      Jaye,

      I have found that many agents do not want you to use note cards. One time an agent saw them in my hand and said…”You’re not really going to use those, are you?” She went on to make the point that she wanted to see that I REALLY knew my story. Knowing the points you want to make and then having a conversation about your story seems to be growing trend.

      Thanks so much for the welcome!

      Reply
  7. Jenna Blue

     /  May 3, 2013

    Jaye, I’m impressed! And sure wish I could do that. I’m pretty sure I’d find my mind suddenly blank, like “I did write The End, but I have no idea what came before!” : ) Just from nerves. I am actually terrified to hear that reaction from an agent, RoseAnn. Yikes! I believe most of the ed/agents taking pitches don’t care one way or another. They know we are writers, NOT public speakers. And yes, we do know our stories inside and out, but the nerves can really throw you for a loop.

    Reply
  8. I also have trouble refining the pitch. Three paragraphs into my pitch a couple of years ago, the agent assessing it said, “That’s where your story gets interesting.” I’m still terrible at boiling my stories down to a few sentences, but I try to refine as I go!

    Reply
  9. Jenna Blue

     /  May 6, 2013

    I keep refining, too, Diana! Distance helps, and like I said, somebody who isn’t as familiar with your story can easily help spot both the exciting bits and the parts that confuse or get uninteresting. Thanks for commenting!

    Reply

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