Tuesday, 1 November 2011


Two pitches for your perusal today.

First, Josiphine Noire would like our help with her pitch for Captive of the Sea. It is a YA historical novel set during the decline of the Viking age. Josiphine says, "Right now I feel like my pitch is...stale. I can't think of a different word for it. If I saw it on the shelf the chances that I would read it are slim at best."

Readers, can you help?!
Caciana was stolen from her homeland, Spain, when she was too young to even remember it. Now she spends her days mostly forgotten with the sheep in the field, which is why she is the only one who survives when the Vikings come raiding. She tries to convince herself that being a slave in Norway won’t be any different than being a slave in Ireland. But she hadn’t counted on…

…Ivor, the handsome young Viking who spared her life, but doesn’t quite know why.

Each has their own journey. When the journeys undeniably become one, neither expects the outcome, or the lessons learned on the way.
My comments: love the title. Several powerful elements: Vikings, slaves, Spain, raiding. But what happens? The last para is hopelessly vague. There is no room for vagueness in a pitch. How old is Caciana, btw? Is she gorgeous? Is she cruelly treated? Brave? I want a strong image of Caciana. What does the story consist of other than the actual capture, vague love and personal journeys? What is the special element of this story, its hook, the thing that's going to make us think MUST READ? So, Josiphine, I think you're right: it sounds weak, but I think that comes down to the words you've chosen. I'm sure you've got a story full of drama and emotion but you just haven't managed to convey it.

My suggestion: brainstorm some words and phrases that your book consists of or conjures up, everything you can think of. Then identify the 15 most compelling words or images. And weave as many of them as possible into your pitch.

Second, Elpi Pamiadaki sent me this, which she used in a query letter for her Paranormal Romance novella, Queen of Souls. Elpi says, "Queen of Souls is a 25,000 word story and is aimed at the Nocturne Cravings imprint of Harlequin. The writing guidelines request a very sexy and sensual read, so the readership would be young women over 18." 
Hades, the god of the aetherworld, was forced to betray his wife, Persephone, to save his kingdom. Wracked by guilt and misery, and in the guise of Aiden Black, he has waited two thousand years to find her again.

Stripped of all her powers and dragged to the future, Persephone remembers nothing of her past as a powerful goddess and Queen of Souls, nor of the dark stranger to whom she is desperately and mysteriously attracted.

Knowing that only Persephone can save his kingdom, Aiden must re-awaken her powers, not realising that this will begin a chain of events, orchestrated perfectly to destroy them and the aetherworld.

Can Persephone learn to love and to trust again? And can her feelings save Aiden from a plot hatched eons ago of truly Olympian depth and cunning?
My comments:
Elpi, I'm assuming the guidelines also say Harlequin will accept novellas? Leaving that aside, there are some really good elements to this pitch but I feel it tails off. The third and fourth paragraphs are weaker: "not realising that this will begin a chain of events, orchestrated perfectly...". What sort of events, orchestrated by whom? Can you find a phrase that is more specific, more dramatic, more emotional? Also, who is the main character? Are we to sympathise more with P or H? And do we want her to love and trust again when H betrayed her so roundly? Rather than asking whether she can learn to love and trust, tell us what her dilemma is from her pov. We need a couple of neat epithets to give us a sense of who we should identify with and why. Having said that, I think the premise of the first two paragraphs is a great one. It could be the only paranormal romance I'd want to read!

But I'd say it doesn't sound very sexy or sensual - since that's required, can you add it to the pitch?

Now, dear blog readers: over to you. Comment away, constructively, please.


stephen said...

While pitches need to hook readers, it's also important not to be vague.

'Battling against her own demons she must destroy the evil vampire to save the world' type pitch is not going to cut much ice.

C'mon, readers are inundated with fantasy, nowadays. Nicola's response is spot on, tell us something we want to read!

catdownunder said...

Would it also be possible to know more about how Ivor saves her life? I think that might be a start - or at least that was the question I asked myself.

JO said...

Captive of the Sea:
I wonder if you need to make your first line more 'active'. Something along the lines of 'Caciana was lying in her cot when ? crashed through the trees and carried her away. Fifteen years later she spend her days with the sheep in the field. But even the sheep can't shelter here when Vikings come pillaging . . . ' If you use more action verbs it might get more of a sense of urgency.

Queen of Souls
This is not a genre I'm familiar with, but agree with Nicola - if this is meant to be sensual you need to give a few racy hints in the pitch.

M Louise Kelly said...


I love the title too - sounds very Theresa Breslin!
But you're right that you could sell the story more forcefully.

First, has she been captured twice? once from spain and once from ireland?

Because you mention Spain in the first line i assume it must play a big part in the story. Is that so? Does she go back there? is she trying to get there? If it's just background info i'm not sure i'd use valuable pitch space on it.

What's the goal of the story? i'd have that in the first couple of lines. (To free herself from captivity? Get back home?) Once you make that clear, it's likely to make the story more compelling. And what would happen if that goal wasn't achieved? What are the consequences for Caciana?

I've been trying to look at story outlines in these terms and it's helped me focus on what's important in my story and write the pitch for my YA historical (or i think it does! i'm going to pitch it here soon, so we'll see!).

Elpi, i've got no experience with paranormal romance but i think you're pitch is great at showing what the stakes are in the story (the goal and consequences of not achieving the goal), but like the others i didn't get a feel that it would be at all sensual. Vocabulary changes might help, being specific about what 'awakening powers' or 'learning to love and trust' might too.

Book Maven said...

Pitch one - is anyone else put off by the name Caciana? it has some rather scatalogical associations for me, which would stop me buying the book.

As for Pitch 2, again, as other have said, not a genre I read but was highly amused by the god of the Underword being racked by guilt about an affair!

Good luck to you both!

Josiphine said...

@ Everybody: Thank you for your help! I'll try again, :)

@ Book Mavren: What about the name 'Caciana' turns you off, specifically? Thanks, :)

Josiphine said...

*Maven, not Mavren. Sorry!

Tamlyn said...

I was a little confused with the first. She’s been stolen from Spain (agree with a poster upthread – does Spain play a big part?), now she’s hanging out with sheep – it’s only a little later I figure out she’s a slave in Ireland. The sheep are the reason she’s survives, so I thought it must be an isolation thing – but she’s going to be a slave in Norway, so obviously she was involved. Ivor spared her – so they killed everyone else? And Ivor spared her because he likes sheep?
Maybe it was just me, but I think it could do with some rearranging.

For the second, agree with the comments about not getting an idea about sexy/sensual read. Also I’m not sure if Aiden actually cares for Persephone – he was wracked by guilt and misery, but it just says he is doing it to save his kingdom, and it only talks about Persephone loving.

M Louise Kelly said...

Re the scatological connotations: we had a play ground rhyme which went:"icky acky, horse's cacky, icky acky out." I'm sure you can guess what horse's cacky is even if you're not familiar with the rhyme. It's quite possible that the second 'c' is meant to be read as soft 'c' but i read it like bookmaven: 'Cacky-anna'

Josiphine said...

Ah, that makes more sense. Yes, the second C is soft, like Caas-ee-anna.

E.Maree said...

The "Captive of the Seas" pitch feels like it's missing the conflict -- what are the journeys they have to go through? What's the challenge/plot twist/enemy that will carry the story after she's captured?

Mentioning Spain seems unnecessary - I'd like to see that space used to describe a bit about Caciana instead. What does she do to while away the time when minding the sheep and being ignored?

For "Queen of Souls", I like the pitch but it sounds very YA paranormal romance for me. Adding some racy hints would fix this. (It also seems like a complex plot for only 25,000 words, but maybe that's just me.)

Both submitters are very brave, and have strong story concepts. Best of luck. :)