Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pitch and Polish

Lately I’ve been trying to write the perfect pitch synopsis for my query letter. How in the world do you convey tone, voice and character and summarize a 125,000 word plot in 200 words?

Something I’ve run into over and over has been to develop a “voice” for my pitch synopsis. This is something I struggled with the most. My novel, Indigo Blaze, is Young Adult, but with a dark, edgy feel to it. I didn’t want a lot of snarky, angsty feel to the voice like so many other YA novels. So what did I do? I read book jackets in the same genre as my novel.

In my quest for the perfect pitch, I used my blog to ask for feedback from everyone I knew, and joined an online community called YALITCHAT (Young Adult Literature Chat) where I participated in their “Query Kick Around” forum. Fellow chicks Hayley and Janet provided the best suggestions and feedback, and after it all, my pitch synopsis went through approximately ten changes. I was feeling fairly confident it was my best pitch yet.

Finally, the day came to put my new and improved pitch to the test. I was notified by fellow chick, Janet, that an online forum called SavvyAuthors.com was hosting a contest to pitch your novel to literary agents. I promptly signed up, entered two contests, and proceeded to win both.

The first pitch took place with literary agent Laurie McLean of Larson-Pomada Literary Agency on Tuesday at 11:00 am. I was at work, so I took an early lunch break as I waited in the chatroom “lobby”, waiting to be ushered into the “pitching” chatroom. I’ve never used live chat before, so I was rather nervous I would screw it up. There were a few technical problems, such as the server kicking us out two minutes before the pitches were scheduled to begin, forgetting my site password to get back in, and the agent being unable to login to the chatroom. The pitches started about twenty minutes behind, but Laurie was gracious enough to stay until everyone had their chance to pitch.

Once into the “pitching” chatroom, Laurie immediately welcomed me and invited me to show her my pitch. I cut and pasted it, hopeful that all of the feedback I had gotten and changes I had made would impress her. Laurie asked a few clarifying questions and made a few comments – but because I was so nervous, I can’t remember them anymore! At the end, she asked for a partial and a two-page synopsis!

Well, this wasn’t the end of my good luck streak! The next day I was notified about winning the second contest - a pitch to agent Kathleen Ortiz of Lowenstein Associates Inc. literary agency. I was far less nervous for this pitch, now that I was a chatroom pitching pro!

Kathleen seemed really interested in my pitch, read it twice over, and had some very specific questions and also some pointers for my pitch. At the end of the pitch she told me she liked my premise and wanted to see a partial, but only if I cut 25,000 words! Apparently publishers cringe at anything over 100,000 words! I agreed and off I went to render my ms down (again).

I’m still a little lightheaded about the whole experience, feeling hopeful, but trying not to get too excited. Kathleen Ortiz’s blog is pretty clear about the odds of getting a contract, saying of the 1,600 submissions she has received since January, only about 1% are successful.

My next step is to polish. I plan to read through my ms one more time, to ensure the cuts I made haven’t left threads dangling or ghosts of story lines that no longer exist. Then I’m turning it over to a hired editor to comb it for grammar and punctuation. Am I missing anything? Do you have any suggestions for me, to ensure I put the most polished product forward?


Julia Phillips Smith said...

Wow - how exciting! I would have had a mental meltdown during that chat room pitch session when your techie problems rose up. They make me crazy.

I can't see that you've got anything left to do with your submission than to wait for the professional feedback - which will be money well spent.

Unknown said...

Congrats with all the requests. :)

The pitch drives me nuts, too. The worst part is how subjective it is. One agent might like the pitch. Another might think it's badly written. Groan.

Silver James said...

Congratulations, Joanne! Winning twice is an accomplishment!!!

Now...a bit of caution. Cutting 25,000 words sounds easier than it actually is. I went through this process two years ago, taking an 80K novel down to category length at 65K. It ended up choppy and uneven. I've since rewritten it and it's back to almost 80K again, though on the back burner as I deal with hotter projects.

Also, be sure to keep your "voice." This is especially true in YA projects. Teens and...what are they calling college-age readers these days? Anyway, they are very cognizant of voice and that can make or break a book.

Now, get busy, shine it up but don't polish the patina away! Good luck. We're all pulling for you.

Helena said...

Congratulations, Joanne! I'm thrilled for you.

I don't feel qualified to offer any advice at this point. You are so far ahead of where I'm at with any of my drafts. But you can bet that I'll be learning from what you tell us as you work through this process. Please continue to keep us up-to-date.

Good luck with your polishing. I really hope it will take you through to that coveted stage of actually working with an editor in preparation for publication!!

Joanne Brothwell said...

Hi Julia,
I have to admit, I did have a bit of a meltdown. I had that "oh my god it's over!" thought run through my head.

Thanks for dropping by the prairies!

Joanne Brothwell said...

Hey Stina,
I agree with the subjectivity part. It's totally dependent on the personality reading it.

Thanks for the comment!

Joanne Brothwell said...

Hi Silver,
I am worried that cutting the document that much is making it too choppy. I am reading it over right now and definitely doing some bridging. I hope it doesn't ruin the flow.

Thanks for your thoughts on voice. I'll take another gander to make sure it's consistent.


Joanne Brothwell said...

Hi Helena,
I might be ahead with my drafts, but I don' think the same is true for the craft!

Thanks for the comment!

Janet said...

I know I've said it before, Joanne, but way to go! Two requests for partials is cause for celebration - and that you did it in a chatroom your very first time is brilliant.

I'll expand on Silver's comment - don't lose your voice in the cut. Not sure if you had a chance to read The Journal yesterday, but I did a post on Voice and there was some excellent discussion in the comment section. Everyone talked about making sure you kept the voice from the first draft (where your natural 'voice' would be shining brightly) and enrich it through the revisions (Karyn does a great job with this).

Cutting that many words is very difficult - so good luck and keep us informed :)

Karyn Good said...

Major congrats, Joanne! Can't wait to hear how it goes.

I loved your query pitch. Having had the privilege of reading Indigo Blaze, I think it does a great job of summing up the heart of your story. Your voice shines through, too!

Cutting 25,000 words is a daunting task, but you can do it! And I'm very interested in hearing how the professional editing goes.

I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed for you!

Karyn Good said...

PS Thanks, Janet!!

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Once again, congratulations Joanne! Such fabulous news.

I'll echo Silver's suggestions again, keep the heart of the story in mind, and make sure the voice remains in tact. In some areas you may be able to do large chopping of sections that don't do anything. In others, you can still go in and look at the sentence level, trim twelve sentences on a page and it'll make a huge difference.

Whenever you want to send the revised product to me, I'll be waiting. As you say, no sense going through sections that may already be cut entirely, so I'll let the draft I have lie waiting.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Oh, and don't be too discouraged about those stats on rejections and acceptance. Think how many of those submitters didn't even follow guidelines? Or take the time to revise. There are a lot of people just flooding things out there with little forethought. The fact that you're working at it already puts you in that better percent.

Joanne Brothwell said...

I read through the Journal today - it was great - and am letting it percolate in my mind. I think the voice has remained intact, since most of the cuts have been sub-plots that I hope to use in a sequel one day.

I guess we'll see!

Joanne Brothwell said...

Thank Karyn,
I'm happy to hear your impression that my character's voice shone through, expecially since your skill at voice is so highly regarded!

Joanne Brothwell said...

I hope you're right about the stats! I think I'm doing all that I can to put the best product out there. Thanks for the pep talk!

connie said...


I'm excited for you!

Typing with my fingers crossed is out of the question - I am a one fingered typist - but I will be wishing and hoping and hoping and wishing!

Keep us informed.

Thanks for the useful info. I had no idea that could be done


Joanne Brothwell said...

Hi Connie,
Thanks for the good wishes - I need it!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Good job, Joanne! A couple years ago I entered one of the eHarlequin pitches but wasn't chosen. It would've been very much similiar to the ones you've outlined.

By the way, eHarlequin is looking for entries for 2 eHarlequin pitches right now... for those with manuscripts targeting the Harlequin Historical and the Harlequin American lines.

Excellent post, Joanne. You're handling the pressure well and have a solid plan. I wish you well with it.


Joanne Brothwell said...

Thanks Anita Mae,
I'm probably handling the pressure well because there is no time line on the request. If I had to have it in immediately I'd be freaking out!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Joanne,
I'm so excited for you! What a terrific job you've done on your pitches! Good luck with your revisions. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you.