Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bait and Pitch Week 5--Queries


Note: If you’re here looking for fishing tips, you’ve come to the wrong end of the blogosphere.

Okay, this week we are working on QUERY pitches. That means you are giving us your best pitch paragraph on a single manuscript and we will give you our communal feedback. Read the full list of rules with all their glorious explanations here

The Rules
Bait and Pitch is open to ALL fiction categories
This is open to manuscripts of any status. 
One pitch per week as a comment to THIS post. 
You post, you crit. 
You edit, you critique again.
If you revise, post it as a REPLY to your original pitch. 
Critiques must include AT LEAST one piece of positive feedback. 
Don’t be an asshole. 
If you cross the line, *I* will critique your pitch in a similar manner. K? *grinz*

**A NEW RULE: If you post, please convince one writer friend to participate. I'm getting great feedback that this is super helpful for folks, but we're having fewer participants each week. Invite a friend to join us!

Formatting Your Pitch

NAME: The Jackal  (bonus points if you get this late 90s/early 00’s TV reference)



PITCH: This is where you will write the pitch paragraph from your query. NOT the whole query. Please limit it to no more than four sentences. Really, if you go beyond that, your pitch paragraph is too long. No, really; and don’t be getting all crazy with the semicolons to fit in extra sentences—you know who you are.

The Wicked Pitch of the East (aka Dannie)


  1. Name: JRH

    Category/Genre: YA/Fantasy

    Title: Phoenix Rising

    Pitch: In a futuristic Minnesota where genetic engineering is the norm, seventeen-year-old Kate has exceeded all expectations by rising to the top of her academic program, despite being a member of the Unselected.  Less than twenty-four hours away from receiving her final ranking, she watches as her dream of a job in the Capitol dissolves into thin air when a recurring nightmare turns into reality.  After her guardian sells her out to two men who want her dead, Kate attempts to escape.  Injured and alone, she blacks out, only to wake in a world that is most certainly not her own.

    1. Hi JRH

      I love Minnesota! Wonderful settting for a book. I hope you worked in Walleye--the delightful, flakey freshwater fish that's best served fried on a bun with just a squish of mayonaise.

      "Genetic engineering is the norm" seems a little bit bland to me. To what end/effect? To make people super smart or to make people stronger? Minnesota has a wonderful medical devices industry as well, I'm thinking cyborgs...but I digress.

      Overall, your first sentence does a good job scene setting and building tension, but not quite sure what the problem is.

      I like the idea of the "Unselected", that seems to clearly indicate a lower class. But if geneticing engineering is the norm, it seems odd that you'd have a class of lessers--unless there is something driving that distinction. Is there? And if so, you might consider weaving in a few words about that.

      "dissolves into thin air is a cliche. Try to find a more personal way to say this. And if her dream job is taken away from her, and its important, you might want to weave that into the first sentence before you take it away. Otherwise, I'm like "okay, if you say so."

      "Guardian" is a specific word to use, as opposed to "parent". Maybe drop the sentence about the job thing and add something about the guardian that sets up the ending the plot twist. I feel like I'm reading sentences that are disconnected at this point.

      The end dissolves into a series a of plot points making this feel like super-short synopsis rather than a pitch with a hook. I get that she's alone and somewhere unknown, but so what? What are the stakes? What is her confict--as opposed to her situation? And what am I rooting for her to do? I think that's was missing at the end.

    2. Katherine MemmelMay 22, 2014 at 6:05 PM

      I agree with others who would like to see more specifics--but the one I think is most important (since I'm assuming it takes up the bulk of the story) is in the line "only to wake up in a world that is most certainly not her own": too generic to grab an agent's attention.

      First, do you mean she wakes up in her own world, which has become vastly different during her blackout? Or does she wake up somewhere else entirely? Another world/dimension/etc.? Either way, you don't have to go into too much detail, but maybe just mention one significant thing that distinguishes the pre/post blackout world.

    3. Hi JRH,
      I'm really, really intrigued by the dystopian elements to this concept. This seems like something I would definitely consider picking up. I'd just like a little more info first.
      I concur with David and Katherine. Specificity is absolutely essential. It may be one small worldbuilding detail you include that piques and agent's interest.
      Two other things you might consider:
      1. For me, the most specific thing we're missing here is what she comes up against in the "world that is not her own." By leaving out this detail yes, there's mystery, but you also leave out telling us what stands in the way of her achieving what she wants, which is essential for agents.
      2. Is this really fantasy? It feels like sci-fi for me, so either I'm not clear on what makes this world fantastical as opposed to futuristic or perhaps you're trying to avoid the "sci-fi isn't salable stigma" that's all over the twitterverse right now. Consider instead "speculative fiction" which encompasses both sci-fi and fantasy.

    4. Thanks everyone for your feedback, I really appreciate it! I think the general consensus here is that I need to be more specific :)

      David - Glad to hear you like MN! I didn't mention the reason for the Unselected only because it doesn't play a huge part in the story, like you mentioned they are a lower class, those who are not genetically modified and really it's just a monetary issue, they can't afford it. The loss of her dream job does serve as motivation and I do come back to it in the next paragraph, that obviously you didn't see. Really great feedback though I appreciate it!

      Katherine - I do mean that she wakes up in another world/universe. The next paragraph contains a new setting descriptor, but the only reason I left the end of that sentence on the vague side was because the MC doesn't know where she is or how she got there. It's one of the driving questions of the story. Maybe there's a way I can make it enticing and more specific though. Thanks!

      Dannie - First of all, thank you for posting these bait and pitch sessions! The answer to your first question I get into in the next paragraph. Maybe I'm not doing this quite right, and I need to include more information in the first paragraph of my query? As for your second question I've gotten that a couple times, but I swear it's really fantasy. She initially starts out in a very technology heavy sci-fi world, but the new world she travels to is very fantasy-esque with magic and the whole shebang which is where 90% of the book takes place. I will look more into speculative fiction though since my knowledge on that isn't all that broad.

      Thank you all again!


  2. While you gave us a great setting, this query feels more like a short synopsis than a query. Adding more tension, what the stakes are for Kate, and giving more detail would help make it better. I have a lot of questions when I read this: What academic program? What are selected and unselected and why does it matter? What nightmare does she have and how does it become reality? Why do these two men want her dead? What world does she wake in? You may not need to answer all of these questions in the query, but by answering some of them, you will give the agent enough information to make your story stand out and hopefully make them want to read more.

    Hope this helps!

  3. NAME: Emily Moore

    GENRE/ CATEGORY: Upper middle grade Contemporary


    PITCH: While squirrel hunting, 12-year-old Dom witnesses the savage murder of a deputy, and he’s pretty darn sure it’s related to the marijuana economy blooming in Millville. Unsure of whether the killer saw him at the scene, Dom pretends he didn’t see anything.. But then his rival for the new girl’s affections is convicted of the crime. Dom must decide whether to swallow the guilt and let an annoying, if innocent, jerk go to juvie, or take the stand and risk his own life by revealing what he knows.

    Thanks for any feedback!

    1. Very few good things come after the phrase, "While squirrel hunting," This querr is one of them.

      I think you set up the conflict and stakes pretty clearly. Your plot seems very straightforward, but that might also be a problem.

      I feel I might have missed something between "Dom sees as murder" and "his rival is convicted of (arrested for?) the crime". If you could connect those dots this would be a stronger.

      Also, "whether the killer saw him at the scene" or not seems really important. If the killer saw him at the scene, it wouldn't much matter what happened with the trial, he'd still be in danger. And if the killer didn't see him, might not the annoying rival be in danger? Seems like killing the kid who gets the murder pinned on him is a great way to close the case.

      Overall, very solid.

    2. Katherine MemmelMay 22, 2014 at 5:58 PM

      I've heard that for MG category especially, voice is imperative in a query. You highlight the main character's voice in the line: "Dom must decide whether to swallow the guilt and let an annoying, if innocent, jerk go to juvie"--but the query as a whole could use more of that attitude.

      Also, did Dom have anything to do with his rival being convicted? Even inadvertently? If so, that would be quite interesting.

    3. Hi Emily,
      Oooh there is so much I love here. I would totally buy this book.
      I respectfully disagree with Katherine, I do think there is some good voice to this query as is. I do think you could make it more consistent throughout the query with a little polishing for word choice.
      One thing I'd invite you to consider changing is bringing in the love interest earlier in the query. First and foremost because that gives your main character an objective, it tells us something he's trying to achieve. But also because it's a decidedly upper middle grade theme where I think perhaps for some agents (and parent's buying for your target market) opening up with murder and marijuana might raise some hackles. I'm not saying at all that these are inappropriate themes (I work with middle grade substance abusers for a living and I can tell you it's a thing) but parents definitely do not want to believe that to be the case. So maybe consider starting with something a little softer, and then give us the twist.

    4. Hi Emily!

      I also think that this query has good voice to it, though it's strongest in the first and last sentences. I think a few different word selections or arrangements would easily fix this though. I do question how aware a 12 year old would be of a blooming marijuana economy though, but I guess it's entirely possible. I would also like to hear more about this love interest since it seems like that is an important aspect of your book. Overall though I think it's really great!


    5. Thank you everyone for your input and encouragement!

      Pitch #2:

      12-year-old Dom’s summer is getting better. He beat up his rival Taylor and kissed the new girl in town, finally got his horse, and built an awesome fort with his big bro. But while squirrel hunting, Dom witnesses the savage murder of a deputy, and he’s pretty darn sure it’s related to the marijuana economy blooming in Millville. Unsure of whether the killer saw him retreat, Dom pretends he didn’t see anything. But then Taylor’s knife is found at the crime scene, and he’s arrested. Dom must decide whether to swallow the guilt and let an annoying, if innocent, jerk go to juvie, or take the stand and risk his own life by revealing what he knows.

    6. Katherine MemmelMay 24, 2014 at 2:29 PM

      So much better!

    7. Hi Emily. Two more minor changes:

      1) "related to the marijuana economy blooming (or did you mean booming) in Milville." Seems too adult to me. Maybe rephrase, to "related to all the Marijuana showing up in locker rooms around the school and behind the 7-11" You get the idea...describe it in terms a kid is likely to use.

      2) "by revelaing what he knows" I feel like this is only half the point. He's not just revealing what he knows. He's admitting that he was present at the scene of the crime. Based your query, we don't know if he "knows" who the real murderer is, but we the killwer will certainly assume he does if it gets out that he was at the scene. I think you should rephrase the ending to bring back in the threat of the unknown murderer. "or take the stand and risk revealing to the real murderer that he was at the scene of the crime."

  4. NAME: Katherine Memmel



    PITCH: Everyone thinks their first betrayal is the end of the world; for seventeen-year-old Anise, it literally is. She can’t explain what happened, but she must be to blame for the houses, buildings, cars, trees, people, everything as far as she can see, all reduced to piles of ash while she doesn’t have a scratch on her. Consumed with guilt and confusion, Anise’s struggle for survival in a lonely wasteland doesn’t end when she discovers the scope of the catastrophe is limited. Someone knows the truth about what she is, the truth about what really happened, and she’ll stop at nothing to reclaim Anise as her own.

    1. The "betrayal" seems out of place or mis-explained, but the rest of this intrigues me. I would buy this book. As others stated, try making more generic, cliche words into your own and give a little more detail to pull in the reader. And maybe give us a little bit more about this someone that knows the truth about Anise.

  5. Hi Katherine,
    Intriguing premise. It definitely leaves me with lots of questions about what happened, and in this case, I think that's a good thing. I think you could work on your first line. There's nothing in the rest of the query that suggests betrayal, so it's a little confusing to start that way. The term makes me expect some kind of romantic entanglement or backstabbing. Could you change the opening slightly, i.e. most high school girls think any disaster is the end of the world, etc.? I'm sure you can find something that fits. I like the hint at the end that there's a woman (or girl?) behind everything, but I'd like to see that played out too. I think as you play with it, you can cut a few words (for instance, "total destruction" or the like might replace houses, buildings...") and dig into the tension you're building. good luck!

  6. NAME: David Oarr

    CATEGORY/GENRE: Upper MG Fantasy

    TITLE: Nomags vs Gifted (Dual M/F POV/MC)

    Molly Verloren, a gutsy Nomag girl from Oberhof, knows that her nerdy, day-dreaming best friend, Christian Derling, often pretends he has magical powers like the Gifted—a people who live across the Black River, a people who even the most sophisticated Nomags fear and Molly’s less-than-understanding father hates. Molly also knows that Christian’s mother has a secret, Christian is one of the Gifted. With tension growing between the Nomags and the Gifted, Molly can’t keep it quiet when Christian accidentally discovers he’s Gifted, and worse, Molly finds herself on the run after she stumbles across a Machiavellian scheme that’s manipulating her Nomag father into starting a war with the Gifted.

    Christian, a fatal optimist despite being hunted as a spy by Molly’s father and his Nomag militia, is confident that his newfound Gifted Magic and a little bit of courage can save everyone, but as Molly fights to protect her best friend, she comes to believe that the only way to save Christian, her father and her people is to sacrifice herself and expose the plot.

  7. I love dual/ multiple POV novels and this one sounds great! But I feel like giving both POVs in the query is overkill. The second paragraph starts with Christian's perspective but feels like it ends with Molly's. Not good. Also, since you have multiple places and types of people, it feels muddled. And how does Molly know Christian is one of the gifted?

    Maybe you could just use the end of the last (very long) sentence and stick to Molly's POV for the query?

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