Tag: writing pitches

An Agony of Pitches: #3 (First Person Pitch for Cricket and Grey)

Philip couldn’t help but notice all the hair pulling and chest thumping going on behind the closed door of my office.  I sometimes think the partners and spouses of writers might have more stories to tell than the writers themselves.  Part of what gave my agony away was the puff of sooty air that belched into the hallway after each time I cursed Chick and Pippa for wanting in and out of my office in a constant pet rotation.  Philip asked me (which took guts) if I wanted to talk about it.  Naturally I said no and immediately launched into a speech covering every single possible reason why talking to him about pitches would not only NOT be helpful but might also usher me more quickly into the shallow grave I was digging for myself in my office carpet.  What usually happens is he just lets me spew and then he starts saying smart stuff that makes me think.  That makes me put the shovel and the knives down so I can consider what he’s saying.  Then he gets everything to turn around until I’m arguing with points he’s making but with excitement and clarity and a much-cheered perspective.  That’s what happened yesterday.

Basically what it all boils down to is what everyone already knows: writing pitches sucks.  But more than that I had been grappling with what kind of book I wrote.  Except I wasn’t grappling at all.  I was just letting everyone else’s ideas about it pollute the truth I know which is that Cricket and Grey may have many story elements to it such as a romantic relationship, coming of age subtext, dystopian context, and a murder that does get solved… but it’s none of those things.  If I have to boil it down to one description then it’s always going to boil down to: suspense.  Not in the Grisham school of suspense, but in the Du Maurier school of suspense.  If you haven’t read the book “Rebecca” I highly recommend it.  Dauphne Du Maurier writes fantastic suspense.

“Rebecca” is about a young girl who meets a moody older man at a fancy resort while working as a “companion” to a snobby old lady.   She falls in love with Maxim and he seems to love her too, though he’s reticent and brooding and a little jaded with life.  He moves her into his exalted mansion after a quick marriage (because of course he’s very rich and his family is well known) and expects her to acclimate herself to his grand way of life but she is shy and insecure and makes a lot of gauche mistakes trying to impress him.  It soon becomes evident that the entire household is still in awe and in love with the previous wife, Rebecca, and the young narrator (who’s name is never revealed) becomes obsessed with the dead woman and begins to uncover facts about her that don’t add up to the picture the worshipful servants and family friends paint of her.  She believes her husband is still in love with Rebecca until she discovers a secret he’s been hiding.*

Suspense.  It’s broody, it builds quietly and menacingly.  There’s a major romantic component to it in the relationship between the narrator and Maxim but I DARE anyone to call this book a romance.  In fact, most people probably just call it literature because it’s become such a classic.  However, if you had to say what genre it is, no one is going to put it in the murder mystery shelves because it isn’t about solving a murder, though a murder does get solved, it’s about all the suspense and imminent danger that secrets and obsessions about the dead Rebecca cause to the living.  SUSPENSE.

And that, my friends, is what I want my career of writing to be built on.  Suspense novels.  You know who else writes suspense novels?  Mary Stewart.  Each one of them has a major romantic component to them and each one has a mystery in them but the books aren’t about sleuthing or collecting clues- the characters are all too busy trying to stay alive to sleuth and none of them are detectives or wannabe detectives.  Powell’s Books did shelve one Mary Stewart book in the mystery section but usually you find her on the literature shelves.  (Except her Merlin books which are often found in the science fiction shelves).

Bottom line is that Cricket and Grey will be considered to be technically science fiction but what it truly is, above all other possible categorizations, is a story of suspense.  Now that I’m once again clear on this point it wasn’t quite as hard to sit down and hit my temple with a hard rubber mallet until words started slipping out.  I tried several new pitches but it wasn’t until I tried doing one in first person that it felt like I was on the right track.  I’m going to put it in this post.  Maybe I’ll cringe over it later but I think recording this whole process for other writers is important.  I think I’m going to make a few more tries before sending anything to an agent, but here’s my best effort up to now.

First Person Pitch for Cricket and Grey:

I could feel eyes on me the day I found the photographs of my mother’s corpse in the closet after my father’s funeral.  But I kept working because at the end of the twenty first century, no one can afford to stop working to grieve.  I put on my black band and prepared for the flu season, which is always devastating because no one can afford to lick the stethoscope of the local doctor or get vouchers for the hospital.  That leaves me, Cricket Winters, the town’s only apothecary, to do what I can for them.  I felt the eyes crawl over me in sleep and while I argued with my friend Julie about how to pay off the years of unpaid taxes my father left for me.  The watcher’s eyes never left me.

It’s strange how a death can dislodge so many other things in your life until it becomes unrecognizable.  Grey Bonneville, a young colleague of father’s, showed up at his grave to pay respects and then stayed on, being chivalrous and annoyingly protective.  It’s true he got me out of jail after I got in a fistfight with the federal officer who accused my father of being a smuggler and my mother of being a whore.  I liked him even though I knew he was hiding things from me about father.  The worst thing I ever did was get myself hired as an armed guard for the local Mormon crime boss, because if I’d never taken that job I might never have killed a man.  It was also the best thing I ever did, because if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have gotten to travel to Portland with Grey.  I just wish my mother’s killer would have shot me instead of him.


Not Mother Approved.

Naturally, the moment I came downstairs and told my mom that I had finally done a decent pitch and that it has to be in first person she tells me that she doesn’t like to read in first person and that it doesn’t seem like a good way to pitch to an agent.  SIGH.  This is the way it goes.  For every single person whose opinion you solicit on the matter of pitches you will get completely different input.  None of them will complement each other and it will just make you feel like grabbing the hard rubber mallet to hit THEM instead of yourself.  At some point you just have to trust yourself or let an agent knock you to the ground instead of your friends and relatives who, while possibly doing you a service, certainly can’t get you a book deal.


*Look at me pitching it like it’s as easy as snapping my fingers.  Is that practice or just cause I didn’t write “Rebecca” myself?

An Agony of Pitches: Pitch #1 for Cricket and Grey

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.