In Search of the LDS Masterpiece

In my experience, LDS publishers and critics repeatedly ask "when will a mormon author produce an LDS masterpiece" meanwhile, back at the office they're nickel and diming those "run of the mill" mormon authors to death. Is if fair to ask when will LDS publishers begin treating LDS authors like professionals?

The flippant answer is: when LDS authors start submitting professional quality manuscripts and when LDS readers start demanding it.

As rude as that sounds, however, it is also the true answer.

There is a customer base that is demanding LDS literature. There are not enough quality LDS manuscripts being submitted to meet that demand. Publishers fill the gap with "run of the mill" books, which the customers accept. Publishers will increase the quality of their output when they have a greater selection of high quality manuscripts to choose from. No publisher ever says, "I think I'll publish this mediocre manuscript even though I have several really high quality ones here on my desk." They always pick the best from what they have.

It takes a lot more money and effort to take one of these "run of the mill" manuscripts and really polish it until it shines. Unfortunately, an increased investment of money and effort rarely pays off in significantly increased sales.

Let's say that if you spend $200 for editing, you can sell 2,000 books. Or you can spend $1,000 in editing, and sell 3,000 books. The investment just doesn't pay out. Publishers will start putting their money into editing when it becomes cost effective--for example, when that $1,000 corresponds to sales of 10,000 copies.

As long as the customers continue to buy mediocre books at acceptable levels, publishers will continue to accept mediocre manuscripts. And unfortunately, some publishers don't care as much about quality as they should. They crank out really bad books, slap a pretty cover on it so it will sell, and they don't care that it's embarrassingly sub par. Other publishers think they're putting out high quality product, and they're really not.

On the other hand, there are some publishers who are really committed to raising the bar for LDS fiction and fortunately, the industry as a whole is moving in that direction. It's just moving slower than some of us would like.


Notes from the Scary Publisher

Oooh, we've found a hot topic in yesterday's post, haven't we? That's good. I like it when there is discussion. It helps us look at things from all angles. There are really two issues here--the effect posting pre-published works on the Internet has on marketing (which has its pros and cons) and the possibility of copyright infringement.

I'll be excerpting a few of of the comments from yesterday here. You can read them in their entirety here.

If something is really, really good and a portion of it has been posted on the internet, a good publisher like yourself would be goofy not to pick it up, publish it and then ask what else they have. If Harry Potter's first three chapters were posted on www.ctrstories.com you certainly wouldn't tel the author to find something less apealing to the reading public.

First, the marketing aspect. There is a difference between posting the first couple of chapters of a book on the Internet (smart marketing) and posting the entire book on the Internet simultaneously with the publication and release of a traditional printed book (fewer sales). If you plan to publish what you're posting, keep this in mind.

Second, the copyright. A lot of people post their writing on blogs before they publish. They want feedback and use that to shape the final manuscript. They get minimal traffic at their blogsite, so the chances of someone stealing their stuff is reduced but not eliminated. If you're going to post pre-published work anywhere on the Internet, be smart about it. Mark it with the correct form of a copyright on every post. Keep good records that will support you should you face the worst-case scenario. When you're ready to start submitting, take down all but the first few chapters. After it's published, replace those first few chapters with the newly edited and published version, and provide a link to where the book can be published.

Anyone who steals your stuff does so at the peril of their own demise.
If you have the resources to sue them for damages. Let's say someone stole your book and a big NYC company published it. As a small publisher, I don't have the money to pursue this or the years it takes to resolve an issue like this. Do you? I will have to wait for them to earn their eternal reward--which does nothing for getting your book published under your name. Even if you get damages, do you think a publisher will re-publish the book under your name? Not likely. And if there's lots of big publicity and the suit is not resolved in your favor, there will always be the question of who was telling the truth. Some publishers will shy away from publishing anything you write because of that. Perhaps I'm overly cautious and conservative, maybe I'm even a little paranoid, but my job here is to help you--which includes giving you a peek into a publisher's thought processes and warning you about the possible negative impact of your decisions and actions.

Publishers are consumed by the bottom line of the story-telling business...
Of course we are. That is our JOB.

Publishers forget why we write...somewhere in the long grind of putting out books year after year amnesia set in. Take away all the glitter of marketing, jetison the sales department projections, toss out the promotionals, be rid of the retail shelf space battles, the access to distribution lines, and the corporate boardrooms. And what do you have left? An author writing for a reader. You middlemen publishers are scary people. You're once removed form the real business of story-telling.

Writers write for a variety of reasons. If your goal is simply to share a good story, then by all means, post it on the Internet, tell it at parties, print copies and give them away or sell them at cost. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

If your goal is to become a traditionally published author and to earn an income from your stories, then you need someone willing to take on the "grind" and run the machinery of publishing--which (because no one has yet invented the replicator which will do away with economically based decisions) includes that cursed marketing, sales projections, promotion, distribution AND coming up with the money to do it.

I hate all that stuff too. That's not why I became a publisher. I became a publisher because I love good stories, I love books, and I loved particular books so much that I wanted to make it my life's work to share those books with as many people as I could. I wish I could accept every good story that comes across my desk and turn it into a book, which would magically appear in every store and people would intuitively know it was a good read and happily plunk down their hard-earned cash for it. But in the world we live in, all that other stuff is a necessary evil. It's not that publishers are so removed from the business of story-telling, it's that we're very much in the business of sharing your stories in a permanent format (printed books) with as many people as possible. Since we're not independently wealthy, that means we have to figure out how to recoup our investment and turn a profit so that we can share even more stories.

Bottom line, we live in a free market economy. Publishers offer a service to both the writer and the reading community. That service carries with it certain conditions and restrictions. If the service we offer has value for you, then seek out a publisher and adhere to their conditions, which may or may not include pulling your work off the Internet. If you feel the service we offer does not carry enough value to outweigh the cost of the conditions, then by all means, publish in your own way, according to your own criteria. No one forces you to "hire" us to produce your book. You can do all of that work yourself in whatever way seems most profitable and emotionally rewarding to you. And I honestly, genuinely wish you success in sharing your story in whatever way you desire.


Posting Your Book on the Internet

This is a long one, so I'm going to insert my comments within the letter itself. You'll know it's me because it's in red and it's not italicized.

LDS Publisher,

First, thanks for your great blog. Great information that can't be found anywhere else.

You're welcome.

Here is my question: have you seen [a site that allows authors to post their stories on the Internet and receive feedback]?

Yes, I have seen the site, but I haven't read any of the posts.

I'd really like your opinion on the site and the concept. The intent is to provide a convenient place for aspiring, and published, LDS authors to post their work for others to review and provide feedback. The site is completely free and includes auto-notification to let those who are members know when new content or comments are posted.

My assumption is that the typical "publisher" response will be negative. Maybe something along the lines of, "Free content on web? We're doomed!" But I'm hopeful that more progressive publishers will see it for the boon that it can be.

Yes, many publishers will see it that way.

Here's how I think it can help publishers:

1) Market Development - Publishers want to sell more books. You posted a great example recently of an author building some viral buzz for her book.[website] can get the buzz started. Would publishers rather publish the work of an author with no email list or with a long list of avid readers? [website] provides a way for authors to start building their list.

Yes, in this way the site is a positive thing--IF the authors are able to capture the e-mail addresses of everyone who visits or registers on the site. If there is no way to contact those avid readers when the book is released, then it really doesn't help.

2) Market Understanding - I know publishers are really good at what they do, but they could always use more market intelligence. Reviews and comments on [website] could provide one more--actually several more-- data points to judge the potential market acceptance of the work.

Yes, if there was a way for the publisher to determine the demographics of the people who post comments--who liked it, who didn't--and use that info to target their audience, then it would be helpful. However, I am guessing (and this is just a guess) that most of the people who come to the site and post positive comments already have a vested interest in the author--friends and family, fellow writers, etc. Unless your site was getting lots and lots of hits a day from a large cross-section of readers and most of those readers were posting comments, then the comments may not be helpful.

3) Author Development - There is a no doubt a lot of junk out there. [website] provides a free platform for authors to get their work out for the world to see and comment. The reviews may not be professional quality, but practice is practice. Why not a sentence at the bottom of the standard rejection letter: "You might consider posting a portion of your work on [website]..."

This is the best reason for having a site like [website]--to help inexperienced writers hone their craft and to practice getting it out to readers they might not normally have contact with. For that reason alone, I am glad to see that this site exists.

One of my concerns is that the writers may not be getting helpful or correct feedback. A comment that says, "I loved this" or "This stinks" is not productive. Comments that say why they liked/disliked it are more valuable. However, you can't know the expertise of the commenter. When someone suggests doing something differently, do they know what they're talking about? I see suggestions on other sites (and hear them at writers conferences), sometimes by experienced published writers, that are so off track I hope no one follows them.

So to those who have posted on this site, great. Just take the comments with a grain of salt.

And this concept is too new for me to even consider recommending it as part of my standard rejection letter. (See also my last comment.)

4) It is Never Going to Replace Print! - It is a rare individual that is willing to sit in front of a screen and read an entire novel. With the cost of ink and paper, it is much cheaper to go down to your local Deseret Book and buy the book than try to print it out yourself. [website] will never replace traditional book publishing. On the contrary, it will create a number of vocal advocates that will help drive sales as the book goes into print.

You are right, this is not going to replace the printed book. However, I know from experience that it does have an impact on sales. I had an author post his entire manuscript on the Internet--after I had already published his book. His business cards referred readers to the Internet site. Sales dropped almost immediately--enough that I seriously considered suing him for breach of contract. I decided against it for other reasons, but I was really ticked and I absolutely, positively will never publish anything else that this man writes. And if I hear that other publishers (my friends and colleagues) are considering publishing a book by him, I will definitely share my experience with them.

Well those are my opinions, but what I would really like is yours.

I reserve the right to change my mind at some future time, but as it stands right now, I personally, would not have a problem with an author posting short stories or works they didn't intend to publish. This gets them some experience and name recognition. But if they are posting works they intend to publish, my biggest concern is the protection of the author's copyright. Someone could steal the work and publish under their own name before the true author was able to publish or be publishing simultaneously with the real author. I would never be able to determine if that was happening. If that were to happen, it would really cause a sticky and very expensive mess. For that reason, I would have to think long and hard about publishing a book that had been published in its entirety on the Internet.


Read This

Go HERE and read Miss Snark's post entitled "When to give up."

And thanks to "Anonymous" for helping me figure out how to link directly to the post. :)

Don't Waste Your Money!

I've received several manuscript submissions lately that were sent to me Priority Mail. Just opened one today--that has been sitting on my desk for a month.

Folks, Priority Mail gives you no advantage in the query/submission process--especially if you're sending unsolicited manuscripts. Send it Parcel Post. Or Media Mail. Or even First Class. All are usually quite a bit cheaper than Priority. Unless an editor specifically requests that you send your manuscript Priority, save your money for more useful stuff--like toner and paper.

And if you really want to save money, do not send a full manuscript as your first contact with a publisher. Send a query letter. And don't let anyone tell you that it's harder for a publisher to reject a full manuscript than it is for them to reject a query or that we're more willing to read a manuscript sitting on our desk than we are to ask for one to be sent. That's nonsense.

When I see an unsolicited manuscript show up on my desk marked Priority Mail, I think, "Poor soul. They don't have a clue how this business works. This manuscript better be good because I'm going to have to spend extra time educating this author." When I see a well written query letter show up on my desk, I think, "Great! They've done their research. They know something about this business. I probably won't have to hold their hand all day, every day...yes, I'll give their manuscript a chance." (Assuming, of course, the query is for something that I'm looking for.)


Contest + Win = Need to Finish That Novel!

Hi, LDS Publisher!

I have a question. I have an incomplete manuscript that I hope to develop one day into a complete book. A few days ago, I had the idea of sending the first part of it to the Irreantum 2007 Fiction Contest. I've had two published authors read it, praise it, and encourage me to submit. According to the website, any fictional form can be submitted, including short stories or excerpts from novels. What I'd like to know is, should I label my submission as an excerpt even though the novel is not finished? If my submission doesn't win anything, which is very likely, then there's no problem, but what if it does actually win something and somebody wants to see the entire novel? Would that be a problem akin to the situation you recently described, where an author submitted a query but didn't have the manuscript finished, and the editor was left banging her head on the desk and forcing a polite "No, thanks," from between clenched teeth? Or should I call my entry a short story instead? Thankfully, it can stand on its own. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Nerve-Wracked Writer

Submitting to a contest is not the same as submitting a query to a publisher. You never query a publisher on an unfinished fiction piece. But it's perfectly acceptable to submit a stand-alone section of an as-yet-unfinished novel to a contest, if the contest rules allow that. If you win and an editor wants to see a finished product, just tell them you're still working on it. They might be disappointed, but if they really liked it they'll ask you to submit when it's done. And wouldn't that be great motivation to get it finished?

(I've requested submissions from winners of contests like this before. As long as the author followed up within a year, I was fine. If it takes longer than that to submit the full, I'd worry that they wouldn't be able to produce additional manuscripts in a timely manner and it's all about promoting an author while they're hot.)

As to what to call it, short stories are usually complete by themselves. They have a full story/plot arc and leave the reader emotionally satisfied at the end. Excerpts can have unfinished business. When a short story is expanded into a novel, stuff is added in between the sentences and paragraphs to make it longer and to add depth. An excerpt pretty much stays as is, with chapters added before and after, but not within it. Based on your description, I'd call it an excerpt.

You also need to get some internal motivation and positive thinking going. Tell yourself you're going to win and that editors will be clamoring for you to submit to them, so you'd better get that thing finished--NOW! :)

Seriously, if you win, you can include that in your future query letters.


To Go or Not to Go

Can you give me a definitive opinion on writers conferences? I hear conflicting opinions from everyone: Go to a conference because you’ll learn so much; Conferences are a waste of time, stay home and write instead. Take sample manuscripts to give to agents or editors; only take queries. I have a chance to go to a conference next month, but I don’t know if it will be worth the time, effort and money.

Not all conferences are the same. Some are worth the effort to attend. Some are not. Here are some things to consider (not necessarily in order of importance):

Cost and Location: Can you afford it? You will not see any immediate return on this investment so make sure it fits your budget. Is it close to your home or at a location that you want to visit? Do you have friends or family nearby who might let you stay with them? Do you have other reasons for going to that location, like a family vacation?

Quality: Who is hosting the conference? Do you have confidence that this entity can produce a conference that is worth the time and effort to attend? How long have they been doing it? Do you know anyone who has attended in the past? If so, did they have a positive experience and are they going again?

Speakers: Who are the speakers? Have you heard of them? Are they people you want to hear? If they are authors, have you read and do you like their work? (If you hate their novel, you probably won’t like their workshop. Unfortunately, the converse does not always hold true. Some people write well, but are not good at public speaking.) If agents and editors will be there, are they ones that you would like to submit to.

Focus/Genre: Is the focus of the conference compatible with what you’re writing? It’s not really helpful for you to attend a sci-fi writers conference if you write children’s picture books.

Networking: In my opinion, networking is THE reason to go to writers conferences. Workshops may offer good information, but you can find the same info in a book somewhere. If the conference allows you to meet and interact with agents, editors and authors who you feel will help you publish your book OR they are people that you really, really want to meet, then go. Meet them. Trade business cards. If you connect with some other attendees on a personal level, they may be interested in forming a writers critique group.

What to Take: If you have a one-on-one scheduled with an agent or editor, bring what they’ve asked for—usually a query letter (for finished manuscripts only). Bring a few queries, in case you get an unexpected opportunity, but don’t just hand them out willy-nilly to every agent or editor there. We get bombarded with stuff at these conferences and you’ll make a better impression if you send me a customized query after the conference.

Time Commitment: An occasional conference can break up the writing routine, give you fresh inspiration, and rev up your motivation to write. But if you find you’re going to conference after conference rather than writing, you might want to skip some and actually write.


Query Critique--Chetak

Dear XYZ Publisher;

He fought an elephant and won, saved a man’s life, reunited two brothers on a battlefield and helped stop the invasion of an entire army.

Chetak, the hero of this 2,200 [I’m assuming word] picture book, was a horse.

This remarkable true story is set in India, a land of color and mystery. The bright, colorful illustrations give young readers a fascinating look at another period of time while sharing the amazing and tender story of a horse and the two brothers who loved him.

When the younger brother could not claim the beautiful Chetak for himself, he argued with his brother then left to live in a distant city. Angered, the two brothers did not speak nor write to each other. A few years later war erupted across India and the brothers joined opposite armies.

On the battlefield, Chetak’s victorious battle against the king’s elephant brought the two brothers together again. Their reunion was so powerful and touching that
the invading king refused to harm either brother. Rather, he granted them the peace they finally knew they desired.

The rich, keepsake illustrations and text introduce children to a country and culture that are not well know[n]. The [This] story about Chetak teaches a universal truth: brothers and family love are important.

I am submitting this manuscript to you because of your strong interest in multi-cultural endeavors. I have worked as a freelance writer and artist for years. My writing has appeared in various national and international publications including Parenting, Horse & Rider, and Western Horseman. My artwork has appeared in magazines such as The Friend and Western Horseman, as well as juried shows and private collections.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I hope you enjoy the true story of Chetak.

This is not a bad query letter. I'd ask to see it. There is nothing in it that I'd change.

The only caution I would give, and it may not apply here since you've sold artwork, is to be very cautious about sending illustrations with your text. Most publishers have in-house illustrators or freelancers that they prefer to use. Or they want an illustration style different from what you've submitted. If you seem too locked in to the idea of using your own illustrations, and the publisher doesn't like them, they may reject the manuscript as well.

If you are a professional illustrator--as in, you've SOLD artwork to someone who doesn't know you personally--and you absolutely want to sell your art and book together as a set, then go ahead and send the illustrations. But if you lack experience, I'd suggest sending only one or two illustrations with the manuscript and stating in your query that you are sending the samples for consideration but that you are willing to sell the manuscript independent of your illustrations.


We Love You, But No Thanks

Hi LDSPublisher,

I recently received a rejection for a novel that a publisher held for over 2 years. In my rejection letter, it stated that my manuscript had received excellent reviews and feedback. Some of the comments included with my letter said my manuscript, "portrayed the conflict at the beginning and stayed true to it through the entire book," and "the reader is never lost or confused with unnecessary information." Further comments: "The conflict is unique," "reaches a vast audience," and "balances details of character's life throughout story very well." Other favorable comments were also included. Yet, the publisher rejected it.

I was not given a list of its weaknesses, what was negative, or why it was ultimately rejected which, in the long run, would’ve helped me to better understand why it was rejected and work to improve in those areas.

I realize this business is very subjective and I, as the author, do not see the whole picture, and that you cannot directly comment on my specific manuscript, but I wondered if you might be able to shed some light on what else a publisher looks for in a manuscript. What captivates or intrigues you? What makes you pass? What bores you? What makes you happy to be in publishing?


Dazed and confused

If you received positive feedback on your manuscript, then my guess is it was not rejected based on the quality of your writing. Good manuscripts are rejected for lots of reasons. They may have filled their publishing schedule for the year; they may have already accepted too many manuscripts in that genre; the marketing department may feel like it won't sell well; an established author may have submitted something similar; and the list goes on.

This type of positive feedback is a good thing. Submit to someone else.


How to Promote Your Book

I am not promoting the book mentioned in these links. I have no personal stake in whether you buy it or not. I am using this as an example of a GREAT grass roots marketing idea.

Here is an e-mail I got from Sariah S. Wilson last week:

My first book, "Secrets in Zarahemla," will be on bookstore shelves this week. In honor of my debut novel, I am offering several contests on my website, www.sariahswilson.com.

I'm contacting you in hopes of spreading the word about my book and to give you the chance to participate in one of the giveaways, the "Secrets in Zarahemla Tell A Friend Contest." I am hoping that you will tell your blog readers about this giveaway. The direct link to this contest is:


One reader can enter to win a free copy of "Secrets in Zarahemla" and a $50 gift card of their choosing. They will need to enter the name of your blog in the "who referred" them box.

The blogger/blog site that drives the most entrants to the contest will win their own $50 gift certificate and a free copy of my book.

The contest lasts until February 28, 2007.

Thanks so much!
Sariah S. Wilson

P.S. - If your blog has multiple posters, I will leave it to your discretion to determine how the prize should be awarded - whether you prefer to have it split up or to give the certificate away on your own site or have me donate to a charity in your name, etc.

Apparently this is working because I have seen her announcement on no less than 4 forums/message boards and 3 blogs that I regularly visit. This is a smart way to get the word out.

Here's why it is good:

1. For me, Anonymous LDS Publisher, to have gotten this e-mail means that Sariah is sending announcements of her book to everyone she can think of. That's good. I'll bet everyone she knows from grade school on got a variation of this e-mail. (Just be aware that some people might consider this spam and delete without reading. Usually I do, but I recognized Sariah's name from a blog that she does.)

2. She is targeting bloggers. Bloggers who write about her book and post links help spread the word and increase sales. When someone Googles her name or the title of the book, a whole slew of sites will show up. If they're all saying good stuff it increases the buyer's willingness to purchase the book. If you don't think this is effective, I ask you, ever heard of "viral videos"? Also, getting on blogs is free advertising for Sariah's book. (Some bloggers might ask for payment or a copy of the book and it might be worth it to oblige them, depending on their hit count.)

3. Speaking of blogs, before Sariah sent out this e-mail, she had been blogging regularly. People who like what they read on her blog are a lot more likely to purchase her book.

4. She has her website in the e-mail in two places, including a link that the reader can click on to go there. She has made it very, very easy for people to go find out more.

5. She's sponsoring a contest--several in fact. Contests are always a good thing. The one that is really good is the "Tell a Friend" contest. You win by spreading the word about how others can win a contest.

6. When you actually go to Sariah's website, it looks really cool. Very professional. A good web impression can be subliminal encouragement to buy the book. Even though our logical minds know that creating a website and writing a good book are two completely different skill sets, our emotional mind (which drives our book buying) does not. Like judging a book by its cover, we often judge an author by their website.

When your book is accepted for publication, talk to your publisher and start planning how you will get some grass roots publicity for your book. Sometimes the publisher will be willing to provide the cash, gift cards and books for your winners. Sometimes it will come out of your budget. But either way, this is a great way to use e-mail and the Internet to promote your book.

NOTE TO ALL AUTHORS: Please do NOT bombard me with e-mails about your books and expect them to be posted on this site. I have only posted this one because it is the first I've received here and because it is a great example of what to do and how to do it. I will not be posting any other e-mails of this type unless they show an exceptional grasp of marketing and/or provide a teaching moment.


Is This a Pitch?

Sally, ostracized from high school because of her appearance, connects with Joe on a level he doesn't understand. Unwilling to leave the "crowd" to discover that connection, Joe seeks to sever any and all ties with Sally, even going so far as to change classes. When Sally begins working at the same grocery store as Joe, his fear makes him desperate to avoid her. But, when the two are thrown together during a robbery, Joe finally discovers the connection and no longer fears Sally or his friends at high school.

Would this be considered a pitch? It's not anything I am writing, but just wanted to try to apply your response to previous pitches.

Yes, this is a pitch. And it's a decent one. I'd like to see a little more about what makes this story unique--different from the other teen love stories out there. Also, I'd like to see a secondary story line hinted at. But if I were in the market for teen romance, yes, I'd ask for a summary (chapter by chapter outline) and partial (first three chapters).


I have several questions waiting for answers. If you submitted a question and I haven't answered it yet, be patient. I'll get to it.

Query vs Pitch

What is the difference between a query letter and a straight pitch?
This question came up more than once during the pitch contest. Although I promised at the beginning of January that I would talk about a pitch, what it was and wasn't, I got incredibly busy at work and never followed up on that. I apologize.

A pitch is the hook for your story. It's that quick, succinct synopsis or summary that will make an agent or editor sit up and take notice. It's the hook that reels them in and makes them want to read the book. Think of it as the blurb on the back of a softcover, the inside flap of a hardcover or the description of the book that gets printed in a sales catalog. If well written, it sells the book for you. It grabs the attention of the casual browser at the bookstore

Most of the time, a pitch is a verbal presentation at a writers conference when you'll have 5 to 10 minutes with an agent or editor. You want to give them enough information that they'll be hooked into the story and ask for more.

A written version of your pitch should also be included as a paragraph (or two) in your query letter. It can be your first paragraph, if you want to lead with it, or your second paragraph, if you want to introduce the basics (genre, title, word count, etc.) of your book first. Either way is fine. But a solid, polished hook paragraph must be part of your query letter or you will get a rejection.

When is it appropriate to use a pitch instead of a query?
At a face-to-face meeting with an editor or agent. But bring your query letter, which includes a written version of your pitch, with you.

Where would we find resources to show us what is and is not an effective pitch and when to use one?
You can find this info in many books about writing and submitting to publishers. Go to your library and browse the TOC of the various how-to-write books. I did a quick google and here are two things that I found.

Pitch Lines That Don't Work

How to Write a Query (This one talks more about queries than pitches, but it's good info.)

Many conferences offer the opportunity to meet with an editor. Would we use a pitch at that time? Would we write it down to give to the editor or simply state it to him/her?
Yes, you would use a pitch at these meetings. This is a verbal presentation. Practice your pitch in front of other people so you can give a smooth delivery. But bring your query letter, a partial and a full, in case your pitch is so stunning that it blows the editor away and they request more on the spot. (This rarely happens, but it could. I've accepted fulls at conferences.)

Is the purpose of a pitch to have an editor ask for a query and then a partial and then a full, or does the pitch take the place of the query?
Yes, the purpose of the pitch is to entice the editor to ask for more. It does not take the place of the query, although it should be included as part of your query (see above). If an editor requests that you mail him/her a partial or full, include your query letter with that submission. Make sure you mention in your introductory paragraph that you met the editor at such-and-such conference and that they asked for the partial/full. And thank them for their time and interest in your manuscript.


Pitch #5

Life is going well for Stacey Hunter. That is, until her young son witnesses the neighbor boy being kidnapped. When a ransom note appears and Stacey’s son describes the car he saw at the time of the kidnapping, she begins to suspect her own husband might be involved. The FBI believes he might be involved too.

Though she can tell something is going on with her husband, she tries to believe in his claims of innocence and begins an investigation of her own. Her snooping leads her to think the kidnapped boy’s father, Mark, is the one behind the kidnapping – seeing as how he’ll get nothing if he divorces his wealthy wife. The evidence also seems to point to Mark having an affair with a young woman he works with at the high school where he’s a teacher, a woman whose own husband was killed under unusual circumstances.

Stacey’s efforts are further complicated by the odd behavior of her supervisor, Patricia Summers, who has taken a keen interest in Stacey’s husband. Though uncertain of her husband’s faithfulness, Stacey presses on with her investigation until she flushes out the kidnapper and nearly gets herself killed.

This is the best pitch of the contest. It’s a little longer, but not so long that I wouldn't read it/listen to it. It’s well written. It’s clearly a suspense novel. We know who the main character is and what some of her challenges are. It answers most of the basic questions.

I would like to see it be a little spicier, a little more intense, to show me that you can carry the suspense. Drop a line that gives us an idea of the setting—where it takes place. Mention the main character’s age. My guess is thirty-something, but it would help me to know.

Also, how is this unique? Right now, it’s just another suspense story—which is fine, if I’m looking to churn out suspense novels. But if I’m looking for a big seller (and I always am), I need something that shows me how this is different from the other kidnapping suspense stories already out there.

I’d probably ask for the first couple of chapters because I really like suspense and I'm willing to give most of them a read. But if you were pitching to a national agent/editor, there might not be enough uniqueness in the pitch to get a request for chapters.

One last comment. I didn’t set any restrictions on the type of novel to be pitched, so it could be LDS or not. Since this does not mention that it’s LDS, I’m assuming it is not—which is fine for this contest. But if you really were pitching me as an LDS publisher, you’d need to let me know that there are LDS components to the story.


Pitch #4

"She stood five-foot-eleven and had to be all of 350 pounds. Her beady eyes, dull and black, looked out from a mass of tangled, dirty blonde hair, her twisted and puffy face full of acne and pockmarks. “GLENNA! run for your lives!” we’d scream in our best blood-curdling cries whenever we saw her. Everyone knew she had cooties of the worst kind, and we would probably die if she ever touched us. But I loved her."

First, this is not really a pitch. It’s a paragraph from the book. This is more of a hook that you might include in a query letter, but it doesn't tell me enough to qualify as a pitch. A pitch needs to answer the questions: who, what, when, where, and why—with a hint at least on the how.

The last line catches my interest, but the rest of this pitch doesn’t do much to get me to ask for more.

You told me in your e-mail that this was a YA novel, but that info was not part of the pitch itself. It should be--or there should be enough clear hints that I get it without question. The reference to cooties leads me to believe it’s elementary or middle school. But Glenna’s height leads me to believe she’s older than that. Is she a fellow student? Or is she an older woman pushing a grocery cart down the street? Why does he (or whoever) love her? Is she perhaps his mother or grandmother?

Clearly, this is not written from Glenna’s perspective, but she’s the only character that’s introduced. Need to know more about who your narrator is. Also need to know what the conflict is going to be and some clue as to its resolution.

I also do not have a clue as to the genre of this book—is it a teen coming-of-age story? A child coming to grips with mental illness in his/her family? Is Glenna a psycho killer who is going to wreak havoc on the playground or a student with a shotgun? Is this going to be one of those make-over romances where the narrator brings out the beauty inside Glenna and then falls in love with her? I can’t tell. I need to know because I don't want to waste my time and yours asking for partials in a genre that I'm not interested in.

You may have a very good, very compelling story here, but I can't tell it from the pitch. I would have to pass.


Pitch Contest #3

The Misadventures of Little Red Writing Hood

Have you ever felt like you’re just spinning your wheels, flinging mud but never getting anywhere? And does ‘getting anywhere’ mean achieving fame and fortune at the expense of being reasonable, responsible, and celestial?

Beckie Mackintosh feels like she’s been spinning her wheels all her adult life, but it’s not mud she’s flinging, it’s dust. Beckie, a would-be writer, lives in a small Utah town with three slightly wacky children [doesn't work] , two dogs who are devoted to food [doesn't work], a cat who thinks she's a queen [doesn't work], and a parrot that’s in love with a feather duster [works!]. Oh yes, and let’s not forget … a husband who’s a psychologist. She wrestles with paw prints, scouting, femininity, and moths [huh?], all the while wearing her lucky red sweatshirt to help her write, and wondering if achieving the celestial kingdom is at odds with achieving the best seller list.

Her most outstanding talent, her imagination, is also Beckie’s biggest challenge since it often carries her away. Her goal is to become a published author, and her family’s antics provide ample material for her to work with. However, finding a publisher who appreciates her ability to turn the mundane into the marvelous is not an easy task.

Frustration reaches a peak and she vows never to write again. However, her husband, Rusty, submits an entry for her in a contest sponsored by a toilet paper manufacturer. The entry is a chapter from her book, revolving around an experience Rusty had while on the Klondike … using toilet paper for a substitute ski mask [works!]. Beckie is awarded a cash prize, along with the opportunity to help write a commercial for the company. She finally understands that she can be celestial without being perfect, and that her family loves her just as she is … sitting at her computer in her quirky red sweatshirt, writing stories and ignoring the dust.

Okay, this could be really good or it could be really bad. I can see that you're going for humor, but most of it misses the zing (see notes in red). When I say "doesn't work," it means it's too familiar and commonplace. "Slightly wacky," how? Give us an example. All dogs love food and all cats think they rule the house. How are her pets out of the ordinary? The parrot hits right on. That is an unusual twist for a parrot.

I like the pun in the title--writing; red sweatshirt--but it’s hard for me to believe that there is going to be enough dramatic tension in this book to motivate sales. It’s not a romance, a suspense, or a mystery—so that means it’s going to be harder to sell. If it’s very, very funny then it might work, but the hints at the jokes and the fun aren’t sharp enough in this pitch to convince me.

Although I smiled at the set-up, I wasn’t completely sold. This is a fence-sitter. I might ask for partials if I was caught up on submissions and having a slow week. If I was really busy, I’d pass.


Pitch Contest #2

Do police officers really spend their time eating jelly donuts and drinking coffee? Read on and find out for yourself. [Drop this entire first paragraph.]

Patrolling the streets and fighting crime, Officer Russell Beck wrestles with the bad guys—from heart-stopping arrests and fast chases on the Capitol Beltway, to a stand-off with a buffalo herd in Wyoming.

"Thrills, Chills and Spills" is the adrenaline rushing, heart pounding, sometimes hilarious, true-life adventures of a cop.

And yes, it even mentions donuts.

This is too general. I need more specifics. Is this a collection of isolated stories about this cop? Or is there an over-arching theme/event that ties them all together. The second option might sell; the first one won’t.

We need more than just a peek into the life of a policeman. We need to care about this guy’s story. There needs to be some internal drama going on. What issues will he face? Where’s the dramatic tension, the conflict, the social commentary on life experience? So far, there is no compelling reason for me to plunk down my hard-earned money to buy this book, nor to spend my life energy reading it. Punch it up. Give me a reason to care.

I would pass on this one, although I do like that last line. It shows some tongue-in-cheek humor, and I like that.


Pitch Contest Responses

Starting today, I will post a pitch and my responses. I only have 5, so we'll do this for the next 5 work days (taking the weekend off). As you read my comments, understand that they are about the quality of the pitch, not about the idea or the book itself. A negative response to your pitch does not mean that your idea or your book wouldn't be wonderful--just that you need to pitch it differently to get it noticed.

Pitch Contest #1

Enjoy the madcap antics that go on at this mental heath center. Follow our hero, Teddy Lawson, as he battles with his boss and the bureaucracy all the while wondering if he isn’t on the wrong side of the locked door at the asylum. His inner conflict and frustration culminates in an interesting twist as he finds his resolution closer to home than he would have guessed.

Short is good--but not at the expense of necessary details. I need the who, what, where, when, why and how--or at least some hint at them. We've sort of got the who, but we don't know a lot about him. Is he a doctor, a therapist, a janitor?

I need a hint at when--when in his life does this occur? Is he a teen doing volunteer work here? A new man on the job getting his first look at the facility? Or is he about to retire and worn down by years of frustration? Where does this happen--is it set in modern day America? Or are we talking about a facility on the moon?

What type of antics? How does he battle the boss? Why does he question his sanity? What inner conflict? What frustration? What twist? What resolution? I need to know some of this.

What type of book is this? Is it a “Cuckoo’s Nest” that exposes the mental health industry? Is it literary fiction, where he examines the meaning of life or man's inhumanity to man? Is the battle with his boss and the bureaucrats literal, putting his life in danger? Or emotional? Or legal? Is it going to be a humorous take (ala Scrubs) on life as a—what? Or is he going to fall in love with a patient, cure her and live happily ever after?

Unfortunately, if your pitch doesn't answer most of these questions, I have to pass.