At last the moment has arrived to announce the winners of Tamson’s pitch contest. I, of course, have read through her post and I can’t believe how much information she provided on what makes a good pitch, what trips them up and why she selected the ones she did. She even gave us a few honorable mentions. Thanks so much Tamson! I am very envious of the winner, because after reading this post, I know you are going to get a phenomenal critique. And don’t forget – even if you didn’t win, Tamson is a freelance editor and you can hire her to help you with your manuscripts.
One last thing. In this post, Tamson talks about titles, and I feel terrible because I think the reason some of you didn’t submit with a title is because I didn’t specify that you could. I said to submit your pitch and the first line. Of course that didn’t mean you couldn’t submit titles, but I wasn’t clear. Mi dispiace (Italian for “my apologies”). Live and learn for the next contest! Now, onto Tamson!
Congratulations, Pitch Winners!
It’s been a lot of fun working on this contest and seeing all the cool stuff that’s gestating in all of your fertile brains. It’s got me thinking a lot more about what makes a good pitch and what doesn’t, how important the pitch is in terms of introducing your manuscripts, and whether or not a bad pitch can be overcome by a fantastic idea. I’d like to share a few insights here as a prelude to the big announcement.
Titles: Many of you did not submit titles with your entries! Presumably, you have them, and just didn’t think they were a necessary part of the contest. And I didn’t end up holding it against you…much. Seriously though, you should be using every tool at your disposal and a title is one of those tools. You might not think you are good at coming up with titles, but you should try, even if it means soliciting help. In all honesty, you may end up having to change it before it’s published, but you should definitely try to find a title that will grab your readers’ attention.
Length: Many of the pitches should have been shorter. Try to keep it to one sentence. If the sentences are pretty short, you may be able to get away with two. But don’t make it longer than that. Picture books are short! It drives me crazy when I see flap copy that is half the length of the accompanying book, and I feel the same way about a lengthy pitch. Fear not! None of you were that far off the mark, but there was some excess verbiage floating around. One way to help you keep it short is to rewrite your pitch about 20 times until it’s pared down to its essentials, while still retaining a personality.
Questions: What role should questions play in your pitch? Usually none. Here’s why: There’s a tendency that we sometimes have to make our pitch sound like aggressive marketing copy, a la infomercial: Do you like Flies? Do you like soup? Well this picture book is for you! Either that, or it sounds like you’re being coy or are playing out a joke or riddle all by yourself: What’s a fly doing in this man’s soup? Why, the backstroke, of course! When you could just get to the point: A man is enjoying a delicious bowl of soup when he notices something in it that wasn’t on the menu.
Rhyme: Rhyming manuscripts, much to my chagrin, are taking a bit of a hit these days. Some agents and editors won’t even look at them. For example, see this post by Mary Kole [link to: http://kidlit.com/2009/09/05/rhyming-picturebooks-a-rhyme-with-reason/] (which, admittedly, is just one agent’s perspective). You have to make sure those first lines really shine. That means, ideally, you show the agent that you are the master of your craft [link to this post: http://tamsonweston.com/blog/rhyming-picture-books-arent-so-scary/]. But at the very least, you should show her that you are a confident and capable versifier. That means that none of those four lines should feel like they’ve been put there merely to accommodate the rhyme scheme. They should flow out eloquently and organically.
Personality: The pitch is a tool to get people to want to read your manuscript and there are guidelines to help your pitch do its job. It helps, though, if there’s a little spark to it as well. Is your character’s voice really engaging? Is your manuscript funny? Is your language lyrical? Then, ideally, your pitch should reflect that. You can, then, bend the “rules” a bit to make this happen. Don’t overwork it though. If you are having trouble getting personality in there without making the pitch very long, then just get to the point. This is a picture book, after all. It’s short. Agents are just going to want to dispense with the introductions and move on to the manuscript.
The Unexpected: Finally, I have to say that sometimes I was almost won over, in spite of myself, by pitches that weren’t ideally executed, but had a great concept behind them. For example, one of the winning pitches contains a question which I thought helped capture the personality of the character. I considered a couple of others that had questions too. Sometimes the idea just wins out, even when the writer doesn’t follow the guidelines to the letter. The best route to a good pitch is to follow the guidelines as closely as possible while capturing the essence of your manuscript.
Here are a few honorable mentions and a little critique of their execution.
TITLE: MARCUS AND THE FUNTASTIC BROBOT — by Angela Padron
PITCH: Marcus wants a brother. So he builds his own “brobot”, only to find that having a little brother – especially a robotic one – isn’t easy.
FIRST LINE: Marcus wanted a brother to play with, but his mom wouldn’t give him one, and he didn’t have enough money to buy one.
This is just a great idea for a book. The proof is in the pudding, of course, but it’s a good concept. The pitch, however, is unnecessarily wordy. This is pretty easily fixed: “Marcus wants a brother—so he builds one!” I wouldn’t use “Funtastic,” either. It’s feels like too much of a marketing buzz word at this point, much like Spooktacular. Marcus and the Brobot is solid on its own. Brobot is a good, evocative invented noun.
PITCH: Are you ready for a French nickname? To get fluffy? To save a flower? A charming dandelion enlists the your help in NAPOLEON BLOWN APART. — by Julie Falatko
FIRST LINE: Bonjour. I am Napoleon. Yes, yes, I know, I am very beautiful. My lovely yellow petals shine like the golden sun.
This one cracked me up. Unfortunately, it’s not a great use of questions—this falls into the category of infomercial-type language. Just the last sentence of the pitch would have been fine, but it probably be shouldn’t be in second person. This can put off some agents. I would also recommend cutting the third sentence in the opening of the manuscript.
TITLE: SECRETS OF THE NOT SO DEEP — by Sue Heavenrich
PITCH: After a week Maya’s mud puddle is teeming with life. What are those fast swimmy things, and how did they get there? Nonfiction/ecology.
FIRST LINE: After yesterday’s rain I am ready for puddle stomping.
Great title. I like playful approaches on nonfiction, so this appealed to me. However, this is a case where the question is not helping the copy. Just the first sentence in the pitch is enough. The “nonfiction” tag is also not necessary. The first line of the manuscript is good. Quite solid.
AND THE WINNERS ARE…
Second place, winner of the book Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom is…
PITCH: Arabella is desperate to keep Penweezle, an ex-witch’s cat, but convincing her family is not easy, especially when the cat tries to help.
FIRST LINE: It was just before teatime when the doorbell rang and Arabella found a cat on the doorstep.
This pitch has a funny deadpan quality to it. It sounds like a conventional pitch, but that clause on the end really gives a little punch. I immediately was imagining the kind of havoc this cat could wreak. The repetition of “door” (in doorbell and doorstep) in the first line is a little unfortunate and easily fixed. It needs a title, of course.
First place, winner of the book, Writing with Pictures, by Uri Schulevitz is…
PITCH: Esther is a fashionista sheep trying to bring a little style to her flock, but finding the perfect accessories on a ranch isn’t easy at all.
FIRST LINE: Nothing made Esther happier than trying on different outfits.
A really concise, well-worded pitch with a little personality. I would change “fashionista” to “fashionable” however. “Fashionista” is too new a phenomenon. This may be just me. I would also delete “at all” but that’s a pretty minor quibble.
Grand Prize, winner of the manuscript critique is…
MELISSA KELLEY!!! ***confetti toss***
PITCH: Elly is wild to save her favorite endangered zoo animal – but big brother claims there’s no such thing as Unicorns! Then what are those?
FIRST LINE: I am the luckiest girl in the world.
This is a case where the question really worked for me, and it adds a little element of surprise to the pitch, which is nice. I wonder why there’s not a “her” before “big brother,” though, since, presumably, it’s not his name. The first line of the story is great. Gives us a sense of this exuberant girl right away and you don’t even resort to using an exclamation mark. Amazing. But, no title! (Save the Unicorns! Unicorns at the Zoo! The Finest Unicorn at the Zoo). Well done. I look forward to reading the rest.
Let’s all give a big thanks to Tamson for hosting this contest for 12 x 12 participants. Congratulations to all the winners and to everyone who participated. I learned loads in the process of running the contest, and I hope you all did too.Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Giveaway, Picture Books, Queries, Rhyming, Writing · Tags: 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Contest, Critiques, Editors, Giveaway, Julie Hedlund, Picture Books, Pitch, Pitching, Queries, Rhyming, Tamson Weston, Writer, Writing