Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pitching the Cat

This week I'm participating in Writeoncon's middle grade critique forum as we all gear up for the Luck 'O the Irish Pitchfest next month.  So of course I'm thinking about pitches.  The thing is that after several years of writing queries and many more years writing cover letters and even a class or two taught on querying specifically and how to get published generally--I still don't like writing a pitch.  In fact, I've realized that pitching feels rather a lot like discovering that the adorable fuzzy face which looks in your window and keeps you company is actually a cat--and you're dinner.

I'm not sure that feeling will ever go away entirely, but over time pitching has gotten easier and I have gotten better at it.

My patented pitch-perfecting method requires that you first write the hook or cool thing your book is about.  This can happen anytime before typing words on the first page up through having written the first three chapters.  But no longer.  I really feel that writing the hook helps focus the book, and writing a rough draft of the query at this point can make sure you have a hook (pretty important for when you go agent fishing!) and enough conflict to see the book through.  And it forces you to figure out who the most central characters are.  It's also easier to get this first attempt at a query pitch out of the way before the whole unyieldy book is written and your original idea has become so puffed up you can't find it anymore.

Once that first query draft is written, I set it aside and let the book develop.  It's my belief that outlines, pitches, and synopses are meant to provide the structure--the bean poles, if you will--upon which the novel grows.  They are not intended to stifle the growth of the story, and shouldn't be allowed to prune it down.  But they can keep it from sprawling all over the dirt.

Once the book is written the pitch is pulled back out to be fine-tuned.  At this point I find it helpful to make several lists.  The first list has words your character would identify with, like serendipity and moss and golden.  Or maybe sassy and grit and curious.  These words help you pick out the vocabulary that will make the tone of your query a match with the voice of your book.  I also like to pull books of my bookshelf (or the library's or bookstore's) that are similar to mine and write down all the words that pop from the back cover blurb.  Then I make a list of my own pop words, that could be used to make my book's back cover blurb.  A third list would be the words and/or concepts you'd use to describe your book to a friend or stranger when you wanted to assure them that the book wasn't boring.  Words and concepts like steampunk, twins, ancient Egypt, fight, blizzard, and power have a certain inherent interest.  Ninjas, too. ;)

Once you've compiled your lists you go back to your pitch and make sure you've used as many of these words as you can.  Don't sacrifice clarity and do make the writing smooth, but avoid being boring.  Finally, make sure that your pitch introduces your character, tells us what they want and why we should care, and who/what will try to stop them.  Do all that and you should have at least the beginnings of a pitch--enough to enter in a contest or run by your critique group.  Because the last thing you'll want on your pitch is feedback, and for that you'll need an interesting pitch!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Need Valentine's Gift Ideas? Some of our Characters' Plans

--Pat Esden
The main character in my YA gothic, Moonhill, has big--well, more like heavy--Valentine’s Day plans.  Anie thinks Chase’s stone cottage is a bit too austere and could use more comforts.  She picked up a big, cushy 1940’s armchair at an auction. Then, because the chair wasn’t all that personal, she bought him a handmade knife with antler handle and had his name etched into it. 

The whole Valentine’s thing is a tough one for Chase. He’s never had to buy gifts until recently and never for a girl he has the hots for.  Chase asks Selena to help him.  With credit card in hand, she hauls Chase to Bar Harbor and helps him pick out a funky 1950’s Tiffany brooch . . . and a silk scarf and a pair of stilettos.  Chase brings it all home from the shopping trip, but leaves most of the ‘junk’ behind when he take Anie for a sunrise walk on the beach and gives her the brooch—which is much more useful as it can be used to pick locks or for self-defense if necessary.

In my WIP, Red Bandana, a YA suspense, Mallory’s choice is a no brainer. She creates jewelry out of antique silverware as a business. So, for Valentines, she’s working on a very special cuff bracelet for Quincy. It’s thick and kind of tribal, like the African coin silver cuffs, really guy-like--not flowery like her usual work.

Quincy’s plan starts at midnight on St. Valentine’s eve. He’s going to take Mallory to the Snake Pit for a late-night snack of waffles with extra whipped cream and strawberries—and probably a little (a lot) of heavy-duty smooching after that. But that’s not all he has in mind.  Quincy noticed Mallory eye-ing a vintage pair of cowboy boots at his dad’s pawn shop. He had his sister make sure they’d fit and is surprising Mallory with them as well.

--Laura Andersen

(The Boleyn King will be released by Ballantine Books on June 4. This interview takes place in February 1553, four months before the events of the novel begin.)

What would you most like to receive for Valentine’s Day?

Elizabeth: A divorce. Robert Dudley’s divorce, to be precise.

William: An army large enough to enforce my will and a treasury sufficiently large to pay said army. And if a comely and willing woman finds her way to my bed, I would not say no.

Minuette: Fabric—silk, satin, brocade, velvet, anything pretty and expensive will do. Or a maid of my own so I might not have to borrow one to do my hair or care for my gowns. Or ready funds enough to provide such things for myself. (Note to Dominic: Not a Book. It is not your job to teach me to be wise.)

Dominic: Strength for England. Wisdom for William. Intellectual challenge for Elizabeth. And for Minuette . . . That she continue her bright, impulsive, delightful self without getting into trouble.

Dominic, that’s more a list of what you would like to give, rather than receive. Is there nothing you want?

Dominic: What I most desire is not in anyone’s power to give.

And that is?

Dominic: None of your concern.

William: Don’t mind Dom. He always makes things more difficult than they need to be. Duty is all well and good, but it’s possible to be loyal and still enjoy oneself. If I could give him one thing, it would be a woman skilled at making men forget themselves.

Dominic: (appalled silence) Please don’t.

--Ginger Churchill

Being only six years old takes Valentine's down a notch. 

Sam, owner of Fluffy the Snake, is making sure she's well fed with Hershey's Hisses.

Andy, scab-lover, is surprisingly sweet, handing out cards that feature vampires saying, "I Vant to be Your Valentine." 

And Perry the perfectionist is giving everyone matching socks that will sit exactly 2 3/4 inches above their ankles. He's fervently wishing that someone returns the favor.

--Suzanne Warr

Taking Valentine's Day to a whole new species and featuring Ninchick hopefuls from Suzanne's own farm. The Ninchicks are, of course, the elite security branch of the chicken coop featured in Suzanne's middle grade novels.

Hoping this helps your own Valentines' preparations. 

Enjoy <3