Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pitch contest notes

While I go through the rest of the pitches and crit them, and wait for the first chapters to arrive, I wanted to share with the "pitchees" and my blog readers some of the observations I made while reading. 

I'm doing this over at the eharlequin thread, but for those of you not involved there I thought I would cross post on my blog.  So here we go.

The first post is on formatting and intro lines.

I was so pleased to see that many of the pitches followed the format that Winnie set out in her workshop! Getting a clear pitch that was approx a half page that hit all the high notes of the story made things so much easier.

I have to admit that I looked at these with a new respect for editors and agents who get tons of submissions every day that are on top of their other work. Let me tell you, when I picked up a pitch and it was clear, concise, and just like I'd requested, it was really appreciated. That's definitely something you should keep in mind when you're querying agents and editors. They are going to appreciate that you took the time to follow the submission guidelines as it makes their job that much easier. So thank you for those who did that.

I saw lots of loglines followed by a few paragraphs which was great. Loglines, by the way, aren't compulsory but it really does help with a word I've heard bandied about a lot lately - context. With a logline I can immediately put the story in a type of context and it really anchors the thought. So...I hope Suzanne doesn't mind but here's the logline from her entry:

"To Deceive a Duke is a Cinderella story with a Runaway Bride twist."

That's high concept. However other loglines are more summary rather than "hooky" and that's perfectly fine too. Here's Jamie Webb's:

"A former football player must decide what's most important in his life - love or the return to a dangerous career - before he can win the love of the woman of his dreams."

Nice, isn't it!

Now - about setting the tone for your pitch!

Do start your pitch e-mail with a short intro. Again, most people did this and to me it is just a simple courtesy. You wouldn't start a conversation without really saying "Hi" would you? And this doesn't mean you need to be particularly witty or chatty. It's just a polite opening that sets the tone for the rest of your pitch. That opening is kind of like an introductory handshake, if you will. Always a nice footing to begin with!

There were lots of pitches that opened with something like the following:

"Hi Donna! Thanks so much for doing this. Please find my pitch for "ABCD", which is targeted for Harleqin blah blah and is about 55,000 words."

That's nice. You know how you don't like getting rejections that say "Dear Author" and signed "Editorial"? Well, I would imagine most agents and editors prefer a brief, polite greeting by name before getting hit with your story. The majority of pitches did this, by the way.

I do want to mention to that this was also meant as "Practice" for you, so if you didn't open with a brief bit don't sweat it - just think about doing it next time when you're pitching to an agent or editor. :-)

It's a small thing, but I think if you want someone to care about the story you're sending, you should care enough to offer a small greeting by name. It's just courteous. And believe it or not - in this business, a little courtesy can go a long way.

Now, that being said, some people hit me with the story first and put the info as a closing rather than a greeting.  Some agents or editors may prefer this - again, this is only my perspective.  And really - if you keep it to a couple of lines, I don't think an editor or agent will mind the 20 seconds it takes to read your polite greeting. 

This isn't the place to write a half page about YOU though.  (And I will be tackling the difference between a pitch and a query later on).

Also I realized afterward that if you are doing something like a pitch session at eharlequin, you're only given 2 paragraphs to pitch your story and obviously the line and word count is a non issue because you are already pitching to a specific line.

So there are exceptions.  Check with the individual guidelines first and always.  The point is - being courteous and clear is ALWAYS a good idea!

Finally, I wanted to clarify what a pitch IS.

It is easier to say what a pitch isn't, when it comes to submitting.

A pitch is not a synopsis.

A pitch is not a first chapter.

In a pitch, I want to know who, what and how in a few short paragraphs. I'm going to get into the ins and outs later, but unless invited or it's in the guidelines, you don't send a chapter. And a synopsis is too long. A synopsis is usually a couple of pages and people struggle getting it down to one.

Someone did ask me in the questions if they could use their pitch for a synopsis and I think my answer was yes but with expansion. In a pitch I want the characters, conflicts, and a basic idea of how it plays out. With a synopsis, it's more detailed with character arcs, development of the romance, conflict, and a definite ending.

Ok.  Now I'm off to add to word count for the day!


  1. Great advice again Donna. Thank you. Caroline x

  2. Great post, as always :)