Remember back when I was trying to write a pitch for Cricket and Grey after finishing the second draft? Remember how much I sucked at it and how embarrassed you were at my efforts? Now that I’m finished with the third draft I have to write a pitch and send it out to book agents until I land one. In spite of receiving some good coaching from friends, I remain incapable of writing even a marginally good pitch. My future depends on this skill and I can’ t conger up even the smallest chink of light onto to this mammoth task. When I’m done posting my two pitch efforts I’m going to crack open the first of many beers to thin my blood and then I’m going to slit my wrists and take a hot bath.
The purpose of the pitch to an agent is to make them want to read your book. Period. It has to be short and concise and say just enough about character, crisis, and context to make the agent (or anyone) read more. Easy, right? It’s a summary of the key elements in your book.
First I wrote an elevator pitch:
At the end of the twenty first century, life is hard enough for Cricket Winters, a small town apothecary in Western Oregon. When her father dies, leaving her with steep unpaid tax bills, she discovers the secrets he’s been hiding about her mother’s death, and it gets a whole lot harder. Now, as she takes on a dangerous job as an armed guard for the local Mormon crime boss, she must also keep one step ahead of her mother’s killer.
Then I wrote a query letter length pitch (300 words or less):
At the end of the twenty first century, life is hard enough for Cricket Winters, a small town apothecary in Western Oregon. When her father Peter (an armed guard) dies, leaving her with steep unpaid tax bills, she discovers secrets he’s been hiding about her mother’s death, and it gets a whole lot harder. Grey Bonneville, a colleague and young friend of Peter’s, receives a posthumous request to watch over Cricket. “Watching” over a pretty girl seems pleasant enough until FBI agents, Smith and Hesse, who have been investigating Peter and Grey on suspicion of smuggling, show up at the burial.
Smith, a swarthy pock faced bully, taunts Cricket at the graveside with accusations about her father’s criminal activity. If he had not underestimated her reputation for being as skilled with herbs as she is with her fists he might have refrained from calling Cricket’s dead mother a whore. Luckily, Grey has some valuable information Smith wants and accepts in exchange for Cricket’s release. The fact that Grey won’t reveal to her the deal he’s made on her behalf convinces her not to trust him.
Her best friends Julie and Tommy (her ex-flame) want to help her pay her taxes and take her to their farm on the coast to rest and grieve. But flu season is fast approaching and she refuses to abandon the poor people of her community when they need her most. She stubbornly insists on solving her problems by taking a dangerous job as an armed guard for the local Mormon crime boss and discovers that Grey has been hired for the same job. Now all she has to do is deliver Malakai’s under aged niece to her fiancé in Portland while staying one step ahead of her mother’s killer.
That was a 300 word piece of crap pitch.
My friend Emma (one of my readers and a really good person to listen to) read the pitch and told me it was all wrong. She didn’t say it like that. She pointed out that my book is about the relationship that develops between Cricket and Grey and how Cricket comes of age through all her dire experiences. I know when someone is right because I often become unhinged and then very very angry with myself. Of course the book is about my main character growing up and definitely a main part of the book is about her relationship with Grey, but I wrote it to be a suspense novel. Not a romance.
NOT a coming of age romance.
So I’ve heard from all my readers and two friends who haven’t read the book but who know a lot about genres and pitching and all that. My two friends who haven’t read the book both insist that any book set in the future, regardless of other elements of the story, are automatically in the science fiction genre. That makes sense to me even though I don’t think of this story as being science fiction.
Two of my readers (Emma and Lucy) mostly think of it as a murder mystery. When Emma tried to call it a murder mystery I practically jumped down her throat telling her not to call it that. (Seriously, Emma is going to regret being my friend soon if I don’t stop being such a jumpy spaz) Why would I object so fiercely to my book being thought of as a murder mystery? Because I read a shitload of murder mysteries and every single one of them focuses on the main character SOLVING a crime. Cricket does not look for clues to her mother’s death, she merely discovers some disturbing secrets about it her father has hidden. She doesn’t have time to sleuth. There’s just about ZERO sleuthing in this book. Most of the time Cricket is trying to figure out how to make enough money not to lose her property and fighting everyone she knows about the best way for her to do it. But because she KNOWS too much now about her mother’s murder she is being stalked. The fact that her mother is killed and how she’s killed made an indelible impression on Cricket but who did it and finding clues is not something she has time to mull over all that much.
If I was going to try to sell this as a murder mystery I would have to seriously ammend the story to include lots of “clues” and make it much more about who did it. Already I have added more lead-up to the end because I downplayed it too much. Anyone expecting a murder mystery would be deeply disappointed in this book. It aint no whodunnit.
I also didn’t intend to write a romance. I think all the best books have a good romantic relationship in them but the thought of being a romance writer mortifies me. Yet if I have to describe this novel in terms of a relationship then suddenly, it becomes clear I’ve just written the millionth stupid-ass novel about a girl who doesn’t think she needs anyone until she meets the person she needs. I thought that it was just incidental, a part of her maturing, yes, and a pleasant development, but I never once thought of it as a book mostly about her relationship and her coming of age. Yet there it is. So now I have to wonder if I should sell it as a romance? I could close my eyes and throw a stick and I’d be sure to hit a romance writer, there are THAT many of them around. Why should the idea of being one of them bother me so much? I don’t hate romance books. In fact, I like some of them quite a bit.
Does genre matter at all? Yes, it does. People say “let the story speak for itself”. That’s all well and good but if you can’t get someone to read it then it doesn’t have a chance to speak. Agents, just like publishers, have a tendency to specialize in different genres. If you sound like you’re peddling a romance to an agent who mostly handles paranormal novels, you’ve already lost the game. Unless it’s a PARANORMAL romance. So yes, it DOES matter. It matters a lot.
One thing no one is calling this book, besides me, is a suspense.
I’d like to flatter myself and suggest that this book is just so unique that it defies any genre. This is patently untrue and what every single writer on earth wants to believe.
I think I’ve written a common little romance with a little murder mystery thrown in for fun.
Makes me think of the first book I wrote “Jane Doe”. What would I have called it? Suspense. Yep. But looking at it through today’s eyes I’d have to say that it’s identical in essence to Cricket and Grey except it doesn’t take place in the future. Mentally ill girl who was raped and left for dead when she was thirteen grows up, heals, and just when she’s even finally healed enough to have a relationship (ROMANCE!) she gets stabbed and left for dead in her apartment. So apparently I like romance books with lots of violence in them.
I’m full of black piss and stinging vinegar today. If all I’m going to write are romances with a little murder mystery thrown in, I’m going to quit writing right now because that means I keep writing shit I don’t mean to write. Which means I’ve got the skill of a writing pig or else I’m too arrogant to just accept what I write for what it is.
But before I go off to bloody my walls with my head, I’m going to post my angry pitch so you can all see how I pitch my book bitterly as a romance. It’s a parody of a pitch so don’t take it seriously. Watch for it next.