The first post in this series is here. If you missed it when it was first posted, haven’t had a chance yet to post your pitch in comments, or decide after reading this one that you’d like to post your own pitch for critique, feel free to drop a comment with your pitch at the first post and I can include it in subsequent crits. Originally I planned on doing one blog post with any pitch / query critiques that were wanted – but I realized how long that one post would be, so it’ll be a series, for as long as you’re all interested in working on them.
Before posting my critique, I thought I’d point out a few things for anyone who needs to do a little digging on how to better hone their query. Most of the best advice on query and pitch writing that I’ve gotten over the last year or so has come about through blogging – it’s more than just a time suck, though as Josie points out from her time with Donald Maass, if it scratches the itch it can be detrimental.
Here are a few blog references for those looking to see how a query / pitch might work best, from some people with much better experience than I:
Most of the agents in my sidebar have done posts on how to write (or how not to write) a query – if you search their sites, you’ll find some fabulous advice.
BookEnds held a series of pitch crits that I learned a great deal from... my own pitch has changed significantly since then, but I knew I was at least on the right track there... there are numerous posts and a significant amount of great feedback from writers in the comments, but it’s worth the time to read through if you haven’t seen it yet.
Our own JJdebenedictis, who recently gained representation, held The Goblin’s Crucible, and many pitches were improved. (Check out JJ’s winning query letter for a good example of what’s worked).
The lovely and talented Moonrat held a Book Blurb contest that was stellar in not only developing pitch but also a working start at synopsis... her contest was to give a back cover blurb (your pitch), jacket flap copy (your synopsis minus the ending), and a tagline.
Okay.... and now it’s time.... our very first entry:
Dear Perfect Agent;
I’m guessing this was a typo, but just in case, it should be a colon (:) or comma (,) depending on your preference or the agent’s
(Personalized note about agent.)
I generally include genre and word count in the opening paragraph as well, that way you don’t have to include the line towards the end, “Paladin's Pride is a fantasy novel, which is complete at 130,000 words.” Which seems out of place and a little awkward stuck in between the pitch and bio sections. I try to keep it to one or two sentences particular to the agent and why I am querying them, usually I can tie it neatly in with my genre – for an example with yours, you might mention a book they rep in your genre and draw a parallel between the writing style or subject matter and your own and finish the sentence with, ‘I thought my fantasy novel would be a good fit for your list’ or ‘a good fit for representation’ I finish that small paragraph with a straight forward sentence on word count – if you’ve already mentioned the genre, you might use, “PALADIN’S PRIDE is complete at 130,000 words.” – When you reference the name of your novel, most sources state that ALL CAPS is the correct format for query.
Just to give you an over-view before I get into specifics, this is too long with too much description. Your story sounds both interesting and fun, but a reader might not wade through all the extra verbiage to find that out. You want your pitch paragraph to be just that, one paragraph – two at the most, but it needs to be concise and it needs to intrigue the reader – the agent doesn’t need to know the whole story from your query, they only need their interest piqued. Look at some of the back cover blurbs on your favorite books – the really good blurbs will give you a great indication of what your pitch paragraphs should look like.
The king is missing. The infant prince is being poisoned. Guards loyal to the king are systematically exiled or killed. It's a dangerous time for a sixteen-year-old girl to join a unit connected to the king's elite Horse Guards, some of his most loyal troops. It's especially dangerous for a girl who has caught the eye of a demon, a pirate and the demon caller.
Gentyl has always dreamed of joining the Horse Guards when she was old enough. However, after the last of the missing king's personal guards is executed like a common criminal, her parents enroll her in an exclusive healing school, where she will be protected. Gentyl thinks her prayers have been answered and she has found favor with the Divine One, when she is accidentally assigned to a military unit instead.
On the verge of civil war and ethnic cleansing, her kingdom is rapidly approaching a disaster unless the king is found. Gentyl is assigned to watch over the king's seemingly senile wizard, but when he includes her in his efforts to solve the disappearance of the king and his guards, she learns Saerowyn is not nearly as helpless or addled as he wants people to think he is.
She survives an assassin's blade, court intrigue, a battle with an undead champion, the pirate's attentions, and the demon's attempts to possess her, but her greatest challenge may be conquering her temper and pride.
I like your opening three sentences, they’re punchy and to the point and they draw you right in. The last paragraph has good potential, too, it’s everything in the middle that needs to be edited down. I’m going to give you a brief rewrite at the end, feel free to keep or discard whatever you like. Obviously, you know your story a heck of a lot better than I do. Another thing to keep in consideration is the fact that your own voice, the voice of your story, needs to be as present in the query as possible.
Another thing I noticed, and this may be a personal thing but I’ll include it anyway – the name, Saerowyn, for a wizard sounds too close to Sauron from Lord of the Rings to me. It was the first thing I thought of – though others might disagree.
Paladin's Pride is a fantasy novel, which is complete at 130,000 words.
I was a staff writer for Speedhorse Racing Report for seventeen years. During that time I wrote weekly stories about Quarter Horse, Paint and Appaloosa racing in Canada, Mexico and the United States. I also wrote several stories about the history of various tracks and articles about equine health. One of my stories was nominated for the AQHA Sprint award.
I like your bio; you keep it right on track tying your publishing history into the specifics of the Horse Guard aspect of your story. The only thing I might do differently is to list the story that was nominated for the award by name, giving the date or year of the nomination.
Thank you for your consideration and time.
My Pitch Re-Write:
The king is missing. The infant prince is being poisoned. Guards loyal to the crown are systematically exiled or killed. It's a dangerous time for sixteen-year-old, Gentyl, to join the king's elite Horse Guards, especially since she’s caught the eye of a demon, a pirate, and the demon caller.
When Gentyl’s assignment includes watching over a senile wizard, she’s drawn into his clandestine efforts to solve the disappearance of the king and his guards. She can survive an assassin's blade, court intrigue, and the demon's attempts to possess her, but her greatest challenge may be in conquering her own temper and pride.
Okay, as I said earlier, use or discard any of my rewrite / crit as you see fit. I’ve cut a lot of information that you may think is more important than what I’ve kept – you know your story better than I do, so it’s really all about how you are comfortable pitching it – the main point is to narrow down exactly what you want to say to entice a reader, rather than giving it away plot point by plot point.
A very big thank you to Julie for putting her query up for public critique. I’m going to open the comments here to you guys – add in all of your thoughts, crits, whatever is constructive to our author. As I said in the first post, honest crits are always welcome, but nothing derogatory.
If you all are still interested in my opinion, feel free to hit the link at the top for the first post on Query / Pitch crits and drop your own in my comments for feedback....