I’m tagging along a day late as always, so it’s too late to pitch now, but this online pitch with Deb Werksman, acquiring editor with Sourcebooks, is fascinating reading and a masterclass in pitching single title!
The contest pitch and Donna’s reply February 2, 2010
I’ll post the pitch I entered for Donna Alward’s Perfect Pitch contest and her reply here, as there were some requests on the contest thread at eHarlequin that the finalists do this.
Remember, as Donna says-
I probably shouldn’t call this contest the Perfect pitch. No pitch is perfect. Mine certainly aren’t. The same way no book is perfect. I always read through my finished product and see things I should have done to make it stronger.
There is plenty I would change about the pitch, in hindsight. At the time it was the best I could do, and it served it’s purpose, which is to give a sense of the story and make someone (in real life an editor or agent, in this comp Donna) want to read more!
The pitch email-
Thank you for offering this wonderful opportunity to a lucky writer again! I hope you enjoy my pitch for “Third Time Forever” a story targeted at Harlequin Superromance.
Third Time Forever
The first time Meg and Nick met they had one magical day together. The second time they met they shared three blissful days…and nights! The third time they meet, can he convince her to make it forever?
Meg Reynolds knows that lasting love and happy ever afters are for other women, not her. A painful childhood cut deep. Emotional and physical scars taught her never to let herself need anyone again. She’s made a new “family” – the motley collection of residents she looks after in her rundown boarding house in a small seaside town. She won’t give that up for anyone or anything. So when her haven is threatened by legal action, she reluctantly turns to the last person she wants to accept help from. Nick di Angelo, the man she thought she was safe to have an uncharacteristic fling with, because she’d never see him again.
A successful lawyer, voted one of Sydney’s most eligible bachelors, Nick looks to have everything going for him. Life is good, but he wants more. He’s spent his life meeting his family’s expectations, giving up his own dreams in the process. Now to get what he wants, he’s going to have to risk disappointing them. He’s sure Meg is the one woman for him. But the gap between their worlds is so great. Neither could be truly happy in the other’s. How can he persuade her to take a chance on him, to create their own world and family, where both their dreams can become reality? Especially when helping her save what means the most to her may be the very thing that keeps them apart.
Thank you again!
Jane Mulberry Jones
Donna’s feedback (just to clarify- I’d already emailed to let her know I might have problems making the deadline and offering to withdraw)-
Jane – I know you’re on a tight timeline this week so I wanted to get back to you about your pitch as I know you’re working on chapter one this week.
You had the intro bit I appreciate with a greeting and title and target line. I also like your first short paragraph – not a traditional logline, but it piqued my interest, which is the main objective.
My very first comment after reading the pitch was a notation saying “This could be a Romance”. Part of that has to do with setting, and without seeing your “voice” I can’t say for sure, but this pitch screamed Romance line to me!
I was a little confused where it was set. The hero is voted one of Sydney ’s most eligible bachelors, but in Meg’s paragraph you just say a small seaside town. That could have used some clarification.
I thought you had a good set up with the goals in opposition to the romance and having to make a choice – this is standard conflict fare and as long as you go deep enough with your characters can work like a dream.
Now I’m going to make an observation and this might be exactly what you meant when you said you realized you started it in the wrong place….this story should DEFINITELY start with the THIRD time forever and not the temporary relationship they had earlier. Open right with the action and the crisis point – where she is turning to Nick for help. The rest is backstory that will feed into your conflict.
The other thing I want to say is you have a shared past story here. Having been there, done that, fallen into the trap I will offer a caution that the shared past, while adding tension and conflict in the beginning, needs to move aside for a conflict in the PRESENT. I dealt with this actually in the book I have out right now.
I’m looking forward to seeing your chapter Jane!
Try to have a sane week this week.
Hmm, and reading that again I’m thinking maybe the best place to start my story is where Donna suggests. So many possibilities! All these different branches, all different, but all leading to the same place, the Happy Ever After. To keep going with the tree analogy, any branch can get you to the HEA, but most may not be strong enough to support the weight of a story.
I owe a load of apologies to all the people who commented on my last entry and didn’t get replies! Sorry to be so rude. I just got back from a week away for a work conference, where I had hardly any time for essential emails, let alone blogging.
Actually, I’m lying when I say I just got back, I just woke up from the sleep I needed after travelling for over 24 hours.
Memo to self- booking a late departing flight on the basis you can sightsee all day and then sleep on the plane is NOT a good idea. Reasons:
1. You never really sleep on planes, no matter how tired you are. And those over the counter sleeping tablets just make you fuzzy headed;
2. Even if you could sleep on planes, you had to change flights at Dubai in the middle of the night. Even though you are just going from one side of the terminal to another you discover that you and the other thousand people transferring flights there at 1am will have to queue and queue and queue some more to have your bags checked again to be allowed to do that;
3. You will become one of those people you always mutter at when you are on your commute, traveling with a suitcase on the packed full rush hour Underground, as no matter how you think it will work out invariably the Airport Express train will deliver you to an insanely busy station at an insanely busy time. Where you have to struggle though crowds to even get onto the platform. Wait and let several trains go without even trying to get on they are so full. When finally one arrives with just enough space you can almost squeeze yourself and the bag into, you will need to get off at every stop along the way so other passengers can get off, then you will get your suitcase stuck in the closing doors when you try to get back on again.
Actually, Bangkok was excellent. Wonderful hotel that I could never afford to stay in if I was paying and not my company! Interesting conference learning loads and meeting with some of the other nurses who work all over the world for our massive US employer. I still had sinusitis and a deep cough that made people turn and look at me on the flight and in the conference, despite loads of cough medicine and a second course of antibiotics. I almost lost my voice, and needed to crash into bed as soon as the conference programme finished on a couple of nights. Even so, we got to explore the city enough to feel I had a good experience of it. I’d love to go back.
In amongst of all this came the email that I was lucky enough to be chosen by Donna as one of the finalists in her pitch contest!
Shocked was not the word. “Whaaaaaaaaaat?” was the word. My crap with a capital C pitch? She liked it? She liked it enough to pick it? OMG OMG OMG, she liked it! Happy dancing around the room. Tell my husband, who’s pleased for me but doesn’t quite get why I’m bouncing off the walls with glee. Scrape myself together enough to start thinking about the reality of this. She needs the first chapter. In four days. Insert expletive of your choice here: Oh —-.
Major panic! I knew even before Donna asked for the chapter it needed a rewrite because my ideas for the story had changed. I was hopelessly confused!
I’d already realised things were moving too fast for the events of chapter one to be their first meeting, they needed to have somehow met before. That was what kept stopping me in my tracks as I was writing originally, the thing that felt “off”. It wasn’t realistic for my heroine to be jumping into a fling quite that fast with a stranger. I know it happens, and I’ve read many fab stories with that as the starting point. But not my heroine, not with her history. I had thought that him being a stranger, only in her town for a few days, was enough to make it safe for her to let go and have her fling. (It could work that way for a different heroine, and that’s given me a whole different story idea!) But I didn’t feel comfortable as I was writing it, kept stretching it out and stretching it out to keep anything from happening between them. He had to NOT be a stranger, as well as only in town for a short time, for it to work for this heroine. So even if I keep the start where it is, which means most of what I already wrote is usable as a first draft, the backstory of that previous time together needed to be dripped in. I thought I had a plan. Let’s call it Plan A.
The process of writing the pitch clarified a lot more about the story and what the main conflicts are. I felt that the story actually needed to begin later, start when the action really starts, when she has to go back to him some time later to ask his help to save the home that means more than anything to her. The first part, where they have their fling, is lovely but tension free. They meet again, they have a fling, they part. That’s nice, but it’s not enough. So everything I had already written was not story at all but back story. I’d written myself in, as a way of getting to know the characters and their situation, but needed a whole new chapter one. Well, that’s okay too, as part of my writing process, though I was going to have to write fast to have anything to send Donna (at that stage of course I didn’t know I was going to be a finalist, but the thought that I might be was a powerful motivation!). Getting that done a tight time frame when I was travelling and doing and intense conference and still ill would be difficult but maybe not quite impossible. I had a new plan, Plan B. This was the one to go with!
Then after rethinking it over the weekend, I couldn’t see that working. For story reasons not only time craziness reasons. I decided to start it where I presently do but compress the time frame between the fling and her needing him. I couldn’t see how leaving out the early development of their relationship would work (again, I can see stories where it could work very well, but maybe not for these characters in this situation). She’s spent her life avoiding intimacy, and has so much conflict over even allowing him into her life for three days. That could be another reason the story was stalling initially. Even if she knows him already from a previous meeting, I don’t think they can jump straight into sexual intimacy. That needs to build slower, she has to have more time to overcome her resisitance and feel safe and comfortable with him. So maybe that part of the story needs to be included. It felt just too big for the heroine to be workable as backstory. A better and more experienced writer than me could probably manage it, but I’m not sure I could pull it off. Plan B, to start latter, went in the “Ideas not used” file. I was going back to Plan A Version 2, start with the fling, but deepen the conflict and intensity. Still almost impossible in the time, but maybe more possible. On the flight on Monday I did some planning for whether that would work as a whole story, roughly plotted it out. It looked good, so I started to rewrite Chapter One. Then when we were changing flights I had time and internet access to go online. I checked my emails. There was one from Donna, asking for chapter one by Friday, and including her feedback on my pitch.
OMG and not in a good way. She strongly advised starting later in the story!
This stalled me. Total confusion. Do I go ahead with what I’m doing, despite it contradicting Donna’s advice, or do I rethink yet again and go with Plan B? By this stage it was the early hours of Tuesday morning. I was on the transfer between flights in Dubai with another seven hours travel ahead of me. I was exhausted, and I’d got sicker on the flight. I had a busy week of conference between arriving and the end of the week, attendance at all sessions compulsory. I’d taken my husband with me and he knew no-one there, so I would have to spend some time with him in the evenings after leaving him by himself all day. Me sitting in the corner with my laptop writing while he watched Thai TV was not going to cut it. Then, when we got to the plane I was put in a seat separate from my husband, a seat where I couldn’t plug my laptop in, and my battery was almost flat. No chance to write. And I needed to have a chapter by Friday. Preferably neither the one I had or the one I was working on. The chances of getting a chapter done were poor to start with, now they looked non-existent. I did what any sensible person would. The ostrich approach. Two glasses of wine with the airline meal and try to nap.
By the time we got to the hotel I had a fever and felt far more ill. I went to the nearest pharmacy, where she prescribed me another course of antibiotics. Back to the room to try to sleep. It was early next day before I properly woke up, and considered my options. They didn’t look good.
What I had as my existing first chapter was passable. It was readable, competently written but dull, full of backstory in internal monologue (a big issue of mine!). There’s no spark or real emotion. It’s just he said, she said; he did this, she did that. Of course, it’s only first draft. I’ve read several authors say they need four or five or even more to layer everything in, and the first draft is just what I’m seeing and not liking in mine. But I didn’t want to send Donna first draft, especially first draft that I knew was missing important pieces of backstory and conflict I felt I now knew how to add. No point getting feedback on something I knew was broken, as chances were much of what she wrote to me would tell me what I already knew.
To to rewrite using Plan B, which would also be following Donna’s advice, was the most sensible approach, but it just wasn’t possible in the time frame.
All that was left was was the way I at least had started, Plan A Version 2. Which very probably wouldn’t work, and most likely wasn’t doable in time either. It was really the only choice if I wanted to submit something I could get meaningful feedback on. But it went against what Donna advised. I felt deeply ambivalent about sending someone I hoped would mentor me a piece of writing that appeared to ignore what she was suggesting. That felt wrong. My feeling that this was the best way to solve the story problems and make it work was shaken too. I still really wanted to try this way anyway, even knowing it may not work and I’d end up having to do it the other way. The best way I learn is to experiment, try out different methods to see what works for me. It’s sometimes a good fast method, sometimes a slow and inefficent method, but once I learn something this way I can really take that and apply it. Anyway, I’d made a decision. This was the version I wanted feedback for. I wrote when I could, bits here and there, but the time ran out.
The outcome was, it wasn’t even half-way done with the chapter by the Friday night deadline. I emailed Donna to let her know I couldn’t submit anything in the time frame and put myself out of the running. She agreed to still give me a critique when I am able to send it, so that is fabulous in itself, even though I missed the chance of longer term feedback. Soraya, who won, is a Romance writer at a stage where she’s very close to cracking it, just the right place to get best benefit from Donna’s mentorship. I think I’m at an earlier stage where I need to learn more craft and develop my voice more first. I need to feel free to make mistakes without feeling like I am wasting someone else’s time too, if that makes sense. Part of what made me panic wasn’t just the not having a chapter ready, it was also the feeling of “I’m not ready for this!” Maybe next year, if Donna is generous enough to offer so much of her time to run this contest again, I might have a chance to enter again, and be able to make better use of an opportunity like this if I was chosen…
Anyway this has been a big learning experience. I feel a lot better now (as I wrote that I woke my husband up with my coughing, but I am a lot better!), so I can get that chapter done and sent off to Donna. I’ve had some lovely positive feedback, which is always a good thing. I had a go at something, and got surprising results. My big take home lesson from this is- do not enter pitch contests thinking “I’ll just get some feedback on my pitch.” You may just get a lovely complete surprise that will throw you into a total panic. This would have been a totally stress free experience if I’d had the chapter ready to sub if needed before I hit send on the pitch. I was wrong thinking that she wouldn’t want my chapter anyway, so it was safe. Admittedly, the process of doing the pitch was what made me realise just how much more work my chapter needed. I’m not sorry I entered, I just wish I’d been better prepared. I will certainly think twice about entering the online pitch contest for Superromance on eHarlequin, unless some miracle happens giving me time to get it finished by the end of the month (that’s the whole story, not just chapter one, I think even I can manage one chapter in a month!).
I think my other lesson and the biggest one I’m only just realising through writing this is a deeper one. I wimped out when it came to the crunch. Maybe if I’d really pushed myself I could have got the chapter writen and submitted. Or maybe I am being too tough on myself. All the above reasons I couldn’t get the chapter done are also true. It’s useful as a writer to be honest about internal motivations though- I know what stopped me making that push to do it. It would have been bloody hard, but it wasn’t impossible. The truth is, the prize frightened me. It felt like pressure, expectations. With their positive flip sides- accountability, needing to show up in my writing and not run away from emotion. I’m not sure where to go with that now, but it could be that just being aware is enough to start to change it, enough to help me dig deep and find the real emotions I want to be there in my writing.
A few people on the contest thread at eHarl wanted to see the finallist’s pitches and Donna’s feedback, so I’ll post those separately. This post is plenty long enough already!
Surviving the week from hell! January 23, 2010
Woo! It’s Saturday!
The last week will have to go down as one of the worst of my life. Not right up there on the list of life shattering tragedy weeks, but if there was an award for the Most Exhausting Week, or the Most Petty Frustrations Piling on Petty Frustrations Week, this would be it for sure. Warning- whinge ahead!
First I had flu. I spent most of last weekend in bed feeling achy and painy and sorry for myself, wasting the long weekend I planned to write in. Then I struggled into work after being up most of the night coughing and blowing my nose on Tuesday to find that we were running on half the staff we normally have. Okay, we’d cope. Except then we lost another staff member and had to manage with a third of our usual staff. And weeks with long weekends we usually pay for the day off by needing to pack the five days work into four. Except this week was even busier than normal. Much busier. One of those weeks that would have been tough fully staffed but nearly impossible with one third staff. Somehow I got through the week of ten hour work days and a long commute in a zombie haze of cold medications, crashing into bed the minute I got home. The funny thing was, everyone who came into the office said, “Poor you, you should be at home.” Didn’t stop them from asking me to do stuff for them though, stuff no-one else could do, that was urgent for them. Even when I stuck the sign on the door, “Emergencies Only Today”, because I was the only one in the office, they still kept coming. Hmm. We have different ideas of what constitutes an emergency, clearly!
Yesterday was the cream on the cake. One of those days where you run all day, faster and faster, fast as you can. Only to find you’ve gone backwards because the treadmill still turns faster than you can run. At 5pm, my desk was a mess. My email inbox was a parade of red flags demanding attention. I had Post-Its turning my desk yellow with things I needed to do before I went home. The folders of things I’d started working on and got interrupted before I finished grew from neat little piles to teetering stacks. I could have just walked out the door and left. But I have this pesky thing called a work ethic. It wouldn’t let me go home leaving a huge backlog of unfinished work for a colleague when I’m off on conference next week. I can’t dump all that her, when she may have nearly as bad a week as I did (though hopefully without sinusitis and bronchitis to manage too!). So I stayed in the office working solidly for sixteen hours yesterday. Finally left at midnight, because I’d miss the last train home if I stayed any longer. Made it home at two am. The worst thing about it- I still didn’t get caught up. Still, I got a massive part of it done, and what’s left over is organised so at least it’s possible to see what needs to be done. I could leave with a clear conscience.
Maybe time to start looking for a new job (again!). Or if anyone has a handy cure for an overactive work ethic, please let me know! If only I had energy left over after work to direct work ethic that to my writing, I’d be laughing.
Though I guess I did direct it to writing in the end. The worst realisation of the week, as horrible exhausting day piled on horrible exhausting day, was that I wasn’t going to manage to get my pitch done for Donna Alward’s pitch contest. I sat on the train home at half past twelve, totally shattered, with not enough neurones left firing to string together a cohesive thought. And I had only one sentence toward the pitch, done on Monday. Looked like flu and the day job had won over writing. Then as I was walking home from the train just before two am, I remembered something. The time difference between GMT and EST. I had nearly three hours. I could still do it. Maybe. Something clicked. My brain switched from zombiefied sleep seeking mode to story mode.
I emailed my pitch at 17 minutes before the closing time. It’s not the best I could have done. But I did it, and I feel good about that. Being sick didn’t stop me, and the Day Job didn’t stop me. This year, I want to live by the rule of “No more excuses!” When it comes to writing, anyway. I might still keep some handy for other things, like not exercising enough or drinking too much wine occasionally.
It’s not a fabulous pitch. It doesn’t follow the plan in Winnie Grigg’s excellent workshop. But I’m glad I did it. The great thing about writing a pitch is it gives the essence of the story. It shows straight away if something isn’t working or isn’t strong enough. It can help us see what we need to do to strengthen our stories. I’m not happy with the hero’s conflict at all. I love Nick, but he’s just not coming across as strong enough or conflicted enough. His main conflict is wanting and loving Meg, in the face of her stubborn independence and refusal to believe anyone could love her, let alone a man like him. Is that enough? (And *groan* I’ve just realised how I worded it there is probably loads better than what I sent in the pitch last night!)
I also know I need to make some big changes with where the story starts, something I suspected all along. I’m going to be in trouble if by some freak chance Donna picks my pitch to final. I may not have a first chapter ready to send. I realised Nick and Meg’s story really starts with what would have been chapter six in what I’ve written so far. Looks like all those lovely scenes I’ve enjoyed writing are backstory, and need to go. It’s good to know my instincts were right, those times I stopped writing, thinking this is all very nice but it’s not going to work as story, I’ve gone wrong somewhere. It’s good to know that writing isn’t wasted, too. I’ve got to know and love these characters and their background through writing my way in. It’s not a bad way to do things, and maybe I simply need to accept that’s how I write. The first ten or twenty thousand words I write may never appear in the story I submit, but they’re still an essential part of my process.
I’m sure I read an HMB author say she always did that. Now I’m trying to find who. It’s mentioned, in a less extreme form of losing one scene, not several chapters, in this First Chapter article from Heidi Rice. Maybe I was thinking of this article by Melissa James (I love all her articles on this site, BTW, so pleased to find them again!). I still think it was someone else though I can’t track it down! Oh well, doesn’t matter if no-one else writes like that, it it works for me it works for me! I think the toughest thing there is just being willing to put what’s already written aside and start again. Not because it’s crap, but because that’s just how my process works and it’s time for the next stage.
I may not stop and start over. I might keep writing up to the point where the story starts, at least sketch it all in, so when I do get into the real storyI totally know their history together. Then when I move on to second draft it gets the chop. That works for me. I just need to remember, my target word count is now 80,000, not 60,000!
Edited to add- LOL, just saw this is the latest entry on How to Write Badly Well! At least I don’t have that level of foreshadowing abuse!
TGI Friday! January 15, 2010
What a week!
I am soooooooo glad it’s the weekend at last. Not much good getting my mojo back if work is so hellishly busy I come home wrung out and too exhausted to do anything but collapse! I’ve had a lousy fluey bug with sinusitis and bronchitis for ages, but it could be worse, my collegue who got sick the same time developed pneumonia! Luckily she’s getting better now, though still not back at work.
I am way behind on my writing targets. I need to dive right into the story this weekend. Thanks to Martin Luther King and having an American employer, I have the day off work Monday. It’s not remotely feasible that I catch up to my goal by Monday night, but I want to be a hell of a lot closer than I am now!
I hoped to enter it in the Superromance pitch contest on eHarlequin, but I don’t see how it will be even first drafted in time, let alone ready to sub by the end of February. Oh well, learning plenty about the fine art of pitching from Winnie Griggs’s massively useful tutorial!
Bound to come in handy some day…
Agency pitch contest March 29, 2009
Thought I’d post this here in case anyone who visits hasn’t seen it elsewhere- a fab opportunity for anyone with a single title story ready to go. The Knight Agency is running a “Book in a Nutshell” competition- send in a 150 word pitch for your story, it has the chance of winning representation by the agency. They handle a range of genres including romance and women’s fiction, paranormal, suspense. The twenty best pitches will be invited to submit a full for consideration. Heres the link to the announcement on their blog. Closing date is 20th April.
I’m not planning on entering as I don’t have anything single title in remotely submittable form. My chick-lit JanNo is still a first draft disaster area, I’ve got so bogged down with my WiP I haven’t even started to edit it yet. But go for it guys and girls who do!
Hmm, I am so tempted to take a break from my princess story and play with the older story for a month. I can justify it- I’ll come back fresh to my WiP and actually make some progress, plus I wanted to edit my JanNo for my RNA New Writers’ Scheme entry. Decisions, decisions! The girls in my writing group will probably murder me if I take time off the WiP now, I did promise I would keep going ’til I first drafted it. Problem is, I am stuck. I’ve been going round and round in circles on this same story since December, I’ve written God knows how many words on it, probably fifty thousand counting all my agonising about the plot as well as the twenty something thousand of story, and I’m still only on chapter two! For the fourth time. Ack! Maybe the private jet taking them to Melusia can crash and they can all die, and I can start another story!
Tempting, but I guess not. I do like to keep my promises. This is a good question though- when should we give up on a story that sounded promising but ends up going nowhere?
Anyway, even if I’m going to stay with the current story, working up a pitch will be helpful. It’s a useful exercise thinking how I can summarise my story in a 150 words or less. Asking- what is the essence of my story, my characters, their relationship blocks and conflicts? To have distilled the key features of the story down to a few words should help me to stay focused, when I’m going adrift in my writing.
I seriously need to do it now, to get that strong handle on what is essential to my plot, what has to happen for each character to reach their HEA. I love thinking up new ideas, digging deep into my characters, but can end up losing focus, making things too complex and messy and diffuse, having too much external stuff happening and neglecting the internal conflict, where the real emotional intensity lives. I need to go back and not just read but do what Laurie Campbell describes in this article on putting together a Pitch . I am sooooo bad for that, reading some fab advice but failing to ever follow up by doing something about it!