[ Pitch Slaps ] Weekend Picks

Part of the Pitch Slapped Series:

Blurbs can make or break the a book’s sales, especially if the reader hasn’t heard about the author before. A strong blurb is a must for query letters and getting the book read.

For this latest installment of Pitch Slaps, we’re going to do something different. We’ve talked about a lot of things that go wrong when an author writes a blurb. So instead, here is the cream of the blurbing crop from indie books recently submitted for review.

SECTOR C by Phoenix Sullivan

“Cloning Ice Age mammoths and saber-tooth cats for canned hunts seems like a good business venture — until it reintroduces the species-jumping pandemic that wiped out the megabeasts 10,000 years ago. Now history is about to repeat itself, with humans the next target for extinction.”

What works: In two sentences, the book blurb sets up the world (ours, futurist), genre (science fiction, speculative, medical thriller) and the conflict (extinction! corporation-style). It’s clear, concise, and clever.

What doesn’t: The truth of it is, I cut the rest of the blurb (not shown here), going from four paragraphs to the one (shown here).


The Phoenix and the Dream King’s Heart by James Monaghan

“The Phoenix is a cursed ship.

Exiled to the Darkland Expanse, on the fringes of the known galaxy, its captain and crew have spent the last decade struggling just to stay alive. In a galaxy full of cruel gods, terrifying monsters and treacherous allies, though, survival is far from an easy task.

When the King of Dreams offers them a bargain – retrieve his stolen heart in return for a key that may just get them home – Captain Asher Lee and his crew agree to launch a desperate mission across dimensions. When faced with an insane goddess and her army of quantum spiders, though, do they really have a chance?”

What works: This is an example of a blurb that does it all–dramatic tension, a hint at the plot, and a glimpse of the world. It adds an extra lure by promising to combine science fiction (space, dimensions…) with fantasy (gods, monsters…). And of course, who doesn’t like a story that has some treacherous frenemies?

Torn by Dean Murray

“Shape shifter Alec Graves has spent nearly a decade trying to keep his family from being drawn into open warfare with a larger pack. The new girl at school shouldn’t matter, but the more he gets to know her, the more mysterious she becomes. Worse, she seems to know things she shouldn’t about his shadowy world.

Is she an unfortunate victim or bait designed to draw him into a fatal misstep? If she’s a victim, then he’s running out of time to save her. If she’s bait, then his attraction to her will pull him into a fight that’ll cost him everything.”

What works: This blurb takes a different approach. It woos the reader with the very fact that it presents the traditional star-cross-lovers plotline with a dash of paranormal intrigue. There will be romance and there may be betrayal, it says, and in the YA PNR genre, what more can you ask for?

What doesn’t: As a reader, I would love to see what sets this book apart. There is safety in being generic in this genre, but give me a hint of something concrete.

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

Read more slapped pitches here.

[ Pitch Slapped ] The Importance of Genre

Long before a potential reader lifts your book to read the blurb, before they even spy your cover, they have to navigate the maze of bookshelves to find where your book is nestled. So before you even start to doodle cover art, you need to answer a fundamental question about your book: What genre is it?

Sometimes you start out writing with a specific genre (“I’m going to write a Victorian era romance”) or trend in mind (“I’m going to write a book like the Hunger Games“).

But other times, you’re crafting your story first, and it just happens to have magic or murder or robots.

Genre-fication:

When Robin Dempsey commissioned us to peck at her blurb, the first thing we zoomed in on wasn’t the story, but her description of it.  Who is the audience? we asked. Continue reading

[ Pitch Slapped ] Huh?

Part of the Pitch Slapped Series:

When Randy Attwood sent us his pitch, his big question was this: “Could reverse psychology work?”

We perked up. Now this promised something different.

The blurb began, “This is strange. I need to warn you away from this book.”

Canary The First and I exchanged an e-glance, and then we dove in. A few minutes later, we replied to the email: Thanks for sending us your pitch. We have a quick question: what’s the story about?

Because, even after reading the pitch, neither of us had a clue. With thrillers, there is a fine line between intriguing obscurity and flat-out confusing. You want to draw the reader in with tantalizing half-details, revealing a little of the plot from a sideways angle. The approach this author took certainly was sideways—but it was also upside-down and backwards. I was so confused by it that CanarytheFirst actually had to hold my hand and walk me through it.

Let’s see that original pitch:

Click to full-view!

My first issue (beyond general, feathery confusion) is the tone. As authors, we tend to talk about our characters like they’re real people. And that’s okay when we’re in writing groups or chatting with other authors. But when you present that face to the real world, people tend to give you sidelong looks and look for the fastest exit from the conversation.  And it’s never good to give the impression that you, the author, are not in complete control of the story. That is a one-way ticket to a reader not trusting you. Speaking of trust…

An aside about genre declarations: So, per author request, I can’t tell you what the erotica/porn bit is about. But, as I now know, it really isn’t porn or erotica. It is so far from either that the suggestion actually made CanaryTheFirst get a little (read: a lot) ragey. Mentioning the Erotica genre there almost seems like a last-ditch attempt to appeal to the part of the human brain that likes it some sex.

But there is no worse sin in pitch writing than to offer a false promise. If it’s not about erotica, don’t even mention it.

Back to the pitch: When we emailed the author to ask what the story was about, we got a traditional pitch back. And it wasn’t as intriguing. Attwood was right about one thing: coming at it sideways is the best bet for this story. But how to do it without being so confusing that a reader will simply shake her head and put the book back down?

It’s all about one thing: establishing the oddity.

There are several popular books out these days that are presented as ‘the author didn’t write this, merely reported it.’ Most recently reviewed by tCR is the Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles series in which Riordan claims to have discovered the audio recordings of the book you hold in your hands. Similar approaches was used for oodles of classics as well—such as Nathanial Hawthorne begging away the real-world diary that was the basis for The Scarlet Letter.

The author-as-narrator is a staple of 19th century literature. But to approach the pitch like that, you have to establish just how you came across the story that you are now writing (a recording, a diary, letters, oral tradition, etc).

Tangent from CanaryTheFirst: Presenting the pitch from the point of view of the “I” of the author sets up the entire trajectory of the narration. With this approach, the reader will be expecting to read a novel framed in terms of an outsider-narrator. If the book itself is written as most thrillers are, bouncing between the points of view of different characters, having a pitch such as this one will create unmet expectations–just as it would if you were to present the Harry Potter books with a blurb from Snape’s perspective.

Now back to the story. Let’s give the pitch another try:

The core idea of the pitch is still there—the unknown parts of the neighborhoods, the author’s hesitation to tell a grisly tale. But now the pitch itself tells a cohesive story. No, it may not be the story contained in the pages, and that is for the author to tweak, but hopefully it is enough to make you want to open the book and find out just what had happened to those people that would scare an outsider so badly.

And now we come back to the author’s question: “Could reverse psychology work?”

Perhaps.  But as anyone who has ever argued with siblings/friends/pet cats knows, having someone try reverse psychology on you is just obnoxious.  As my revision above demonstrates, creating an intriguing premise or setting up a mystery the reader wants to unravel is a stronger approach than telling the reader not to pick up the book.

There’s urgency in this pitch—and that makes it irresistible.

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

Read more slapped pitches here.

[ Pitch Slapped ] Down with the apologies!

Tenant 572 of Pitching Your Book:

Don’t apologize. You have a book, and you love it to death, but you know it’s not the best book out there–there’s so much good literature in the world already! And you know that vampires are a little cliché–but these are different! And you do know that reviewers are busy people, and you hate to bother them and–

Stop. Just stop.

Be it a friend, bookstore, or a review blog, these are people who enjoy reading (selling, reviewing, what-have-you) books–or are at least spending a lot of their free time doing it. Willingly.

So start with the assumption that they want to find out about your book. Because they do.

Never self-deprecate or talk down about your book. There will be enough people who’ll do it for you without your prompting. More importantly, if you, the author, don’t have the guts to stand by your baby, it probably shouldn’t have been published in the first place, much less read.

 

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

Read more slapped pitches here.

[ Pitch Slapped ] My Book is a Butterfly Unicorn…

…Written in the Style of Shakespeare and Sylvia Plath.

Authors inspire new and upcoming authors, and books inspire books. When trying to entice a reader, it’s tempting to talk about your influences–and to compare your novel favorably to other recent hits.

Resist the temptation. Continue reading

[ Pitch Slapped ] If It’s a Duck, It Needs to Quack Like a Duck

If it’s a Duck…

This here is a duck.

…then it needs to quack like one.

Mark Glamack is the author of a children’s story about a group of five Littluns on an adventure. From the story summary, it’s clear we have a powerful evil, an artifact of power, and a quest to save the world before it’s too late.

So what’s holding this blurb back? Well, for one thing, it doesn’t look like it’s written to grab the imagination of a kid browsing the library shelves. While a pitch might be directed at an agent, parent, or some other adult, it must also be keyed at the target audience. It needs to be the kind of book a parent (or publisher) would pick up off a shelf for his son.  This blurb makes the mistake of speaking vague, abstract terms about unavoidable “results and consequences” and trials that “could not have been anticipated or even imagined” which takes it miles away from what matters–the story appeal and its plot.

Tenant of writing a blurb: Ye Shall Not Be Vague

Let’s take a look at the blurb itself: Continue reading

[ Pitch Slapped ] How to Knock a Reader Dead

This is our first article in our Friday Pitch Slapped series. We’ll be looking at author blurbs from a variety of genres and discussing the elements that stand out as being particularly good…and not. This article’s all about getting to the point of the story.

How to Knock a Reader Dead

In the following blurb by Joan Hall Hovey, the author lays out a clear “who?”, “what?” and “why?” for her readership. Ellen’s little sister is killed and Ellen wants revenge. She provokes her sister’s murderer in hopes of getting him caught. The book is a thriller, so we imagine there will be suspense, danger, and a lot of near-misses. However, the blurb itself suffers from some near-hits and close calls.

Click for full-size.

But what else does the blurb promise? Continue reading