Some people posted their pitches in the comments to the redlines article about parsing and pitching. I thought it might be useful to give feedback on the front blog page and give folks a chance to help each other with pitches.
So here's the first one, from Natalie, who cautions us that she has a precious and feeble ego. Ooh. That's a problem in this business! But we're pretty good about focusing on the work and not devolving into mudslinging, and I'm gambling that Natalie's ego will survive.
If You Are But A Dream is a historical romance about a law clerk who finds love and forgiveness in a time of war. While trying to do her bit for the war Heather finds she must choose between the man who loves her and the one she thinks she loves. Her decision is flawed by town gossips intent on ruining others lives. Heather realizes she’s made the wrong choice only to find James, her true love, leaving for the war front and incapable of forgiving her. She follows him into war to try to prove that she’s more than he thought. The ravages of Papua New Guinea help James realise his true feelings for Heather. Heather finds forgiveness and fulfilment in James. If You Are But A Dream is a 82,000 word historical romance which would appeal to Charlotte Bingham fans. It is based on true stories from my home town in World War Two which family and friends have shared.
So, let's start with a little description of what it's like to sit on my side of the table during pitches, because it's important to keep in mind that pitches don't get made on paper when we all have the leisure to consider them closely. Pitching is like speed dating where one party (the editor or agent) is trapped in place. A succession of people come, one after the other, so rapidly that the only way to keep it all straight is to make notes during the pitches. I always review my notes right when the pitch session ends so that I can add reminders and other details that will help me remember people later. Otherwise, it might all be a blur.
Also, the rooms are always like meat lockers. Why is this? I have learned to always take a fresh, hot mug of tea into pitches to try to keep me warm -- it's either that or a down parka. Before the first pitch ends, my hands are generally turning to meatsicles, which makes the introductory handshake a bit embarrassing.
From my perspective, pitching is a bit like triage. I hear a pitch and am listening for the key details that will let me figure out how it would fit into our publishing schedule. Length. Subgenre. Heat level. Usually, people pitch me work that I think I can place. Sometimes, they pitch me things that sound good but might not work for us -- things like full-length novels, which are incredibly hard to place with us, or things with plot red flags that I know our readers won't buy.
When I hear a red flag during a pitch, I generally let the writer know about it. It's not an indictment of the work (which, of course, I haven't seen and thus can't evaluate), but rather, just a general statement about potential marketing issues. So, with that said, let's talk about Natalie's pitch.
First, it seems very well structured to me. I was able to follow easily and got enough sense of the plot and characters that I understand what kind of story it would be. The pitch was tight but still presented some good detail: law clerk, love triangle, wartime, bad decisions, danger, redemption. I like stories with redemption themes -- and so do readers -- so I'm interested in that angle and might ask some questions to see how that theme plays out.
The one weak spot seemed to be:
While trying to do her bit for the war Heather finds she must choose between the man who loves her and the one she thinks she loves.
I don't know what her bit for the war is. Does she knit socks for soldiers? Or is she engaged in espionage? That could mean almost anything. I'd like something more specific that "the man who loves her" -- find a more evocative noun, such as soldier or flatfooted Mayor's son, or whatever. But what really jumped out at me here is "the one she thinks she loves." Is there a true distinction between thinking we love someone and loving someone? Does the author perhaps mean to imply that the law clerk might love this man, but isn't certain of her feelings? This sentence is a bit vague, even though it does a good job of introducing the love triangle. It just could be much better.
Now, we're going to assume that anyone practice-pitching on this blog is pitching to the correct editor, that the editor could actually acquire this type of story. But I'm a little concerned that this particular pitch is mischaracterizing the work. The author describes it as an historical romance, but then delivers a love triangle plot summary that sounds more like women's fiction. The other problem is that WW2 is not really an "historical" period as such is meant for historical romance. Historical fiction? Yes. Historical romance? Not so much.
But, assuming I acquired women's fiction of this length and in this time period, what really jumps out at me is the Papua New Guinea angle. That, more than any other single detail in the pitch, is what would set this one apart for me. This isn't another story about London air raids, the French resistance, and Allied military strategies. No concentration camps. No starvation. No sprightly doo-wop war songs. The setting makes me think this story could be something different, that maybe this author will be in firm control of her own world-building, and that makes me want to take a look.