[Pitch Slapped] The fewer words, the more each one matters.

“I am wondering if I lost something in the whittling down of this blurb.”

If you’ve gotta ask…

From that sentence alone, I know author David Wozniak totally knew in his heart of hearts what would happened when he cut his 200-word blurb to his 50-word elevator pitch and sent it into our merciless canary claws.  The skies grew dark, women wailed in the streets, old men grew sorrowful and still.

Because, let’s face it, there’s nothing harder than trying to distill the essence of a 50,000+ word story into a few pithy sentences.

But let’s back up and take a look at David’s elevator pitch:

“Each year, Master Voider Democryos sends his brightest student into the war-torn countryside to work magic. But when the young Lady Marine leaves him for another man, he finds his own life ravaged.  Forsaking the comfort of the citadel, he seeks to find her–not to gain her back, but to gain understanding.

Nothing goes as planned.”

First thought: The fewer words, the more each word matters.

In such a short piece, every word carries huge weight. Protip: Avoid using words that have no meaning to the reader. An easy example of this is “Master Voider” – I don’t know what it is, and that’s distracting. Continue reading

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[Pitch Slapped] Amping up the details. Like a boss.

The email:

Dear Canaries,

I come with bowed head and outstretched arms to lay my blurb upon the sacrificial alter that is Pitch Slaps.
I know it’s too long but I can’t figure out what would be best to remove. It is my first time, you know. I would really appreciate your help, even if you tear into it like a 4 year old’s Christmas present from Santa.
Thanks for your consideration.
Brooke Hodge
Of course! It will be our feathery pleasure. But first, the blurb:

darknesswithin

Continue reading

[Pitch Slapped] A book blurb is no place for world-building

Happy Monday, canaries. We bring you a pitch-slapping to get this week rolling right. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the place that world-building has in blurb-writing. (Because the title of this post clearly isn’t spoiler enough.)

But before I dive into that, here is  Heena Patwa’s blurb for her novel, Impossible to Love:

There is an age old story – some call it a myth, some believe it to be history. Nevertheless, the fact remains that there exist three different species who look alike. First are the underwater dwellers – the nymphs. The myth says that they are cursed never to find love. They are all females and mate with humans, killing them after the act. Second are the starlites. They can fly, and their hearts are cold as the snow covered peaks they live in. They are cursed never to feel love or get loved by anyone. The third is the human race. Humans can feel love, get love, cherish it and hence are considered worthy to rule everyone. The guardians are a group of starlites whose job is to protect the humans from the nymphs and they have got a new member- Sophia Antofurota.

Sophia gradually finds out that the royalty is hiding many secrets but never suspects that she can have any part to play in their schemes. Will she find out that the crown-prince is in love with her or will the world keep believing that starlites are impossible to love?

So…guys. Here’s the thing. Stop world-building in your book blurb.

The trivia about the race system in this world might be interesting and relevant to the overall plot, but it’s a problem when we don’t actually find out what the story is about until the tenth sentence in a story summary. In fact, of the 192 words in this blurb, only the last 72 talk about what the characters and plot. That’s the equivalent of having the first 189 pages of a 300-page story be about the details of the world’s myths and geography, and the last 100 pages, the actual story.

I don’t care how clever or unique your world system, or your five-class society, or your alternative reality. At most, you get half a sentence to describe your super special world-concept, and that’s only if it’s super vital to the story.

If I cut the world-building, here’s what we get: Continue reading

[Pitch Slap] Readers read words, not minds

Another pitch slap article.

One of the best bits of fortune cookie-style writing advice I’ve ever gotten has been this: Readers read words, not minds. 

When a reader picks up a book, they’re reading the words, the paragraphs, the chapters. It no longer matters what the author meant, or wanted to imply, or included in the 50-page compendium of world-building notes. The words on the page are all.

Here’s the thing: Writers read with their minds, readers read with their eyes. The writer already knows what’s happening, what it all means, why the characters do what they do, all before ever sitting down to look through what they’ve written. It all makes sense, not because the words-on-the-page explain it, but because the writer’s brain knows all.

All this leads me to our latest 50-word story summary sent in earlier this month by author B Hughes-Millman for some feedback.

Title: Purgatory’s Angel
Genre: Paranormal Romance

Once a mighty archangel, Jaime is on earth hunting those who kill the innocent in their sleep. Then she meets the handsome demon in a dream she can’t remember. When she wakes, he’s still alive, but he must have died or she wouldn’t have woken.

I think you know where I’m going with this. Here are some off-the-cuff thoughts as I read:

Angel girl

I suspect none of these oddball questions I asked even occurred to the author. But the reader doesn’t have the advantage of seeing around the corner. The reader doesn’t have the author’s mental footnotes and annotations. More clarity is needed.

Wait, don’t you want to get your readers curious? Make them ask questions? Continue reading

[Pitch Slap] Playing chess with vampires, and other unfortunate encounters

When Vanya Ferreira sent in his short story blurb for a Pitch Slap, we hesitated. I usually don’t look at short stories, but this canary has a weakness for anything to do with vampires, so there you go. Exceptions are made. This is how civilizations end.

In 45 words, the blurb sets out to capture the essence of the story. In general, the fewer words you get, the more tempting it is to be vague – to go broad. But vague language is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It will lure you in by promising to tell the story of your book, and then turn to the reader and say nothing at all.

Resist.

The sharper your words, the less you cry, to reword a recent cooking memoir title.

Here’s what Vanya sent us:

Title: The Story of Lucius Cane

Summary: London, 1794. Lucius Cane, a peculiar vampire, comes upon an opponent the likes of which he has never seen before – a brute with remarkable abilities. But not all is as it seems as their encounter unfolds in a manner that neither of them expected.

Lots of things to like here. Immediately, we get the setting and time period, quick and tight. London, 1795. Now we know place and time, andwith the next five words – the main character’s name and genre. Historical fantasy with a vampire character.

Then, just as I’m expecting the blurb to zoom me into the story…it doesn’t.  It backs off. It goes vague.

London, 1794. Lucius Cane, a peculiar vampire, comes upon an opponent the likes of which he has never seen before – a brute with remarkable abilities. But not all is as it seems as their encounter unfolds in a manner that neither of them expected.

Interpretation: Mr. Vampire and his opponent are playing chess. Being a vampire chess player is hard. Everyone tries to schedule the match close to dawn and don’t get me started on the unfounded accusations that you use bats as a distraction.

Now, in the real story, Mr. Vamp and Mr. Opponent are probably not playing chess.* There’s a higher likelihood that the vampire gets into a fight with someone over something and something happens.

Which…is the summary of pretty much every vampire/adventure story ever. And the very definition of a story.

Here’s what happens when I switch in some concrete, specific plot:

“London, 1794. Lucius Cane, an ancient vampire, comes upon a dangerous hunter, the first creature in more than three hundred years to be a threat – a brute with the teeth of a shark and the eyes of a lost soul. But though a vicious fight leaves both injured, Cane cannot shake the feeling he’s met this creature before.”

“London, 1794. Lucius Cane, a bespeckled vampire, is searching for the Librarian – a brute with the power to absorb words from books and throw them like hunting knives. But not all is as it seems as Lucius gains the Librarian’s help and his book hunt leads the two to a lost colony of angry unicorns.”

“London, 1794. Lucius Cane, a playboy vampire, finds his match when he meets a butler who refuses him entry to the country estate – a brute who seems immune to Lucius’ hypnotic powers. But as Lucius tries to get an invitation to enter before sunrise ends the party inside (and him), he can’t figure out how he is foiled at every turn by a mere mortal…”

“London, 1794. Lucius Cane, a powerful vampire who often escorts young ladies home from their parties, finds his evening snack interrupted by a hooded  figure – a brute who walks with a limp and knows Crane’s name. Crane ends up losing his dinner. Is he about to lose his life, too?”

 And, of course, the chess story:

London, 1794. Lucius Cane, a vampire and chessmaster cursed to have to finish every game he plays, finds himself stumped by a player who matches his every move – a brute with the muscles of an ox and the eyes of a mastermind. As night creeps towards dawn, Crane knows he has to win soon or his curse will keep him trapped there past sunrise.

The original blurb does itself no favors by trying to create an aura of mystery and playing coy. It’s the details that make the readers’ ears perk up.

Be crisp about what’s happening. Show us what’s at stake.**

Canaries, over and out.

*Though how cool would it be, if they were? Someone, write this story!
**Pun absolutely intended.

Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar? Email it our way  to canarypost@gmail.com. You can also read more Pitch Slaps here. 

[Pitch Slap] The book identity

[Pitch Slap] The book identity

RisingWhen Patrick Sean Lee sent us some info about his book, Rising, I was intrigued. The cover is pretty, the title is dramatic, and the first sentence of the blurb starts “In the spectacular and corrupt city.”

I wanted to know more.

But as I kept reading the blurb, I began to suspect that the story was suffering from an identity crisis. Or several.

But before I get too far into that, here is the blurb….

CanaryPost

Identity crisis: Target your age group.

Who is this story for? Teens? Pre-teens? The word choice and language could go either way

Teen InfographicThe cover evokes an atmosphere of mystery and fairy-tale wonder, so perhaps the story itself leans towards coming-of-age fantasy adventure.The blurbs use of words like “spectacular,” “strange new land,” “massive branches of five-hundred-foot-tall-trees” create a kind of Narnia, Oz, or Alice in Wonderland sense of fantasy. The character passes through the veil from a gritty, harsh world to one of color and spectacular beauty and danger.

On the other hand, the opening (a corrupt city, a walled-in ghetto, caste systems) makes me think of political thrillers or sci-fi suspense adventures of the sort you see in books like Mazerunner, Hunger Games, Divergent, etc. Something that pits the character against an immense and unjust system.

A good rule of thumb for writing young characters for young readers is that your target reader will be the same age or a year or so younger than your character. If that holds true, readers of Rising will probably be in their mid-teens.  Kids want to read books that are “cool.” Be careful that the word choice is not narrowing your audience to the grandparents-only demographic.

Let’s assume we’re aiming for Teens. So first thing I’d do is…

Tighten the language: 

Canarypost2

Pruned down this way, the intriguing elements of the story come to the forefront. But a couple issues are also creep into the spotlight.

Issue: someone wants her dead?

Blurb:  “This happens, that happens, this happens, and then this happens!…oh and then someone wants her dead.”

Me: “Wait, what?”

So much time is spent on Alana’s trip to the island and why she was sent there that it’s really not clear what the story will be and what the main conflict is really about. No, we don’t have to know why someone wants Alana dead, but nothing in the blurb even hints that this should be a thing.

If a blurb takes the narrative approach, as this one does, each section of the blurb should connect to the next.

  1. Alana arrested unjustly.
  2. Because she is arrested, she is dropped off on island prison.
  3. Because she is dropped off on the island, someone rescues her.
  4. Because someone rescues her, she lives to learn about the island grouping/caste system.
  5. …Someone on island wants Alana dead badly enough to destroy the island.

The link break down at #5. Something more needs to be said to connect this.

Issue: What’s at stake?

One of the ways a blurb can pull the reader in is to explain what is at stake. What is the point of the adventures? What’s at stake? Is it just plain survival? Is it about getting back home?

Is the story going to be about Alana’s adventures on the island, or her attempts to fight/unravel the corrupt caste system that sent her to the island? Should the reader be asking, “Why is she a special case? Is this a science experiment? Will she lead a rebellion against the injustices at home?” or should the questions be “How will she survive on the island? Who is her friend or foe there? Can she escape the island to go home? What is this place?”

To make me care, you have to tell me what the danger is.

And what we’re fighting for.

Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar? Email it our way  to canarypost@gmail.com with “Pitch Article Submission” in the subject.

Looking for a few more pitch slaps?

[Pitch Slap] Writing that agent query.

Now, I’m gonna say that I’m not a literary agent. I read books. A lot of books. And websites and stuff. So when Jodie emailed us and submitted an agent query for a pitch slap, I was briefly confuzzled, then nervous, and then I dove in. Here’s my canary stab at talking about agent queries!

For this pitch slap, I’m going to press pause on the blurb itself and instead talk about the stuff around it.

Sector 12 Continue reading