[ Pitch Slapped ] Burning through the synopsis smoke screen

The Two-Pronged Problem

Earlier this week, Jennifer Worrell contacted us about the pitch for her manuscript–she hates writing pitches with a passion, but she knows she needs to whip one out for her book. We took the pitch and liked what we saw. And we saw a couple places to prod with a pole. But I’ll start at the beginning.

The story in question is a middle grade novel with the working title, The Spyglass. Let’s take a look and see what it’s about:

“Thirteen-year-old Chad, his twin sister Chloe, and his younger twin siblings Billy and Maggie, are heading for remote Mathews, Virginia, to spend the summer “picking” antiques with their crazy uncles. With his father away in Afghanistan fighting terrorists, alcoholism, and demons from past battles and his mother immersed in her Ph.D. research into his families’ Native American lineage, Chad deals with the chaos in his life by picking on his siblings and picking his nose. Nothing could have prepared him for what would happen when he picked an old spyglass from a storage shed auction he attended with his uncles. When he touched the cloudy lens, Chad found himself cast back in time to the decks of a battling privateer ship, and he sees a mysterious boy through the cannon smoke lying in a pool of blood. This child looks exactly like him. As he travels back and forth in time between his uncles’ home on the Chesapeake Bay and a fiery wooden battleship from 200 years ago, Chad learns the truth about his Native American lineage, his unusual powers, and the consequences of giving those powers away.”

The blurb sets up some great details; in less than 200 words, I have a strong sense of where Chad is coming from. The language is specific and clever, and there are no comprehension issues. It stresses the contrast between Chad’s everyday life and the fantastic adventure he falls into (think Neverending Story, Narnia, Indian in the Cupboard…). On the one side, there’s Chad’s troubled home life, on the other, mystery and adventure.

Where the pitch stumbles, though, is in the overall  cohesion of the summary. What is this story about: family or time travel, dealing with alcoholism and neglect in the family or discovering one’s mystical heritage? Continue reading