Monday, 21 May 2012

Pitch para - Dragonfire by Misha Herwin

As you may know, I'm giving published and self-published writers a chance to show us a pitch paragraph for their book and you the chance to comment, to the benefit of all concerned. Please see the post here for details of how to pitch your own book and about the possibility of it appearing in my forthcoming Dear Agent book. And meanwhile, PLEASE comment below - the writer would like your feedback as well as mine!

Today's paragraph is from a self-published children's book, Dragonfire by Misha Herwin and is a fantasy adventure. The age range that Misha gives is 8-12, but I should point out that if this was being pitched to an agent or publisher, that range would need to be narrowed. The convention is that no more than three years should be spanned - eg 8-10, 9-11. (Though you can say "teenage" or "young adult" if you mean 12+.)

I've explained to Misha that I'm happy to put it on the blog but I won't use it in Dear Agent (forthcoming book about covering letters), partly because I've got enough example paragraphs now, and partly because if I was actually advising her how to pitch it to an agent I'd first be gently suggesting that some things about the book changed, not just the pitch, and that's not the subject of Dear Agent!

Dragonfire by Misha Herwin
"Polly Miller has never belonged.  Orphaned as a baby when the firework factory exploded, wherever she goes she is followed by a trail of mysterious fires.  Thrown out of every foster home she ends up at St. Savlons, The Care Home for Truly Disruptive Kids.  Here she meets Courtliegh Jones and Sprog, who doesn’t speak but makes it clear that he is the little brother she never knew she had.  When he is kidnapped by the evil Lady Serena who wants him for her experiments to prove that magic and science are one and the same, Polly and Courtleigh set out to rescue him.  To do so they discover under the surface of this world another realm of shape changers and lost kingdoms.  Courtleigh learns he can speak to animals as if he is one of them, Polly that she can breathe fire.  They break into the Bioflex Foundation and face Lady Serena, who says that no one will believe kids from St. Savlons.  They simply don’t matter.  Furious Polly takes a deep breath and as the whole building goes up in flames, she Courtleigh and Sprog run for their lives."

OK, here are my comments:
  • Nice and lively, with emotion and action. The names suggest humour and lightness in the story - fine if that's truly the tone of the book. It does label it as a particular type of story, though, so do be sure that's what you intend.
  • "the" firework factory? As in the place where she lived/her parents worked? Or what? "the" is odd.
  • "Courtleigh" is spelled in two different ways - this simple error would indicate to me (as a prospective reader on Amazon, for example, OR as an agent) that the book may also be full of errors.
  • "To do so they discover under the surface of this world another realm of shape changers and lost kingdoms." Problems with this sentence: need commas to separate the phrases, otherwise it's hard to read first time; you don't mean "to do so" but "in doing so". Also, what do you mean by "under the surface of this world"? Do you mean underground, or metaphorically? Lack of clarity in a pitch raises flags for agents and other experts.
  • "Furious Polly" - I think you mean "Furious, Polly..."
  • In terms of the plot, I very much like the idea that at the core is an issue about science versus magic.  On the other hand, I find the fire-breathing skill and plot device a little problematic and not fully realised in terms of character and development. Also, you say she is thrown out of every care home - does that take up much of the actual story or is that back-story? That feels ambiguous and is, again, something the agent really does need to know in order to feel what sort of book it is.
  • For a pitch paragraph, we need to know something of the resolution, though I do appreciate you don't want to give that away to actual readers.
  • In terms of character development, you start by saying that Polly has never belonged, yet you never refer to this again or present it as a strong element, which it could/should be. Sprog "doesn't speak" - can you develop this and make it feel important? If not, leave it out.
  • I think that rather than focus quite a few words on details (such as what Lady Serena said) you could pump more emotional and dramatic content in, with more wide-sweeping dramatic phrases.
So, if I was looking for an adventure/fantasy to buy for this age group, (and I do have several young relatives of the right age!), I wouldn't buy it as it's described here, simply because the writing of the pitch isn't tight enough for my liking. HOWEVER, if I was an agent looking for an adventure/fantasy for this age group, I might be tempted to read the first couple of pages of the submission, and if the writing there is good then I would stop worrying about the pitch paragraph.

In short, there's a lot that could be done to sell more copies of Dragonfire by tightening the blurb and I do hope Misha looks at some of the suggestions and sees which she agrees with. It's her call and my comments are only suggestions.

And if you are interested in reading an extract from the actual book, the link is here! But please comment on the pitch first.


Kate Paice said...

Children's fiction editor here. To add to Nicola's comments:
- I don't really get a sense of the setting. Real Victorian? Fake Victorian? Modern? Invented world? The names suggest Victorian, the 'Kids' and 'Bioflex' don't.
- I'd have thought discovering the underworld would be a massive part of the plot - so it seems odd it's brushed over in one line when Polly's backstory gets five lines?
- I guess from the ending that this is intended to be the first of a series? That's important information if I'm considering buying it!
- This may have been covered elsewhere, but this pitch is only telling me the story. I want to hear about the book before I hear about the details of plot. For example: "Dragonfire is the first in a proposed comic fantasy series for 9-11s, although it also works as a standalone story. It's set in a steampunk-Victorian setting where magic and science collide. When orphan Polly's young friend is kidnapped..." It's very useful to have that first before the plot specifics!

Nicola Morgan said...

Kate - hello and thank you hugely for dropping by and adding your massive practical expertise! (Everyone, Kate actually edited one of my books when she was with Barrington Stoke.)

You are obviously right about needing the genre/series details first - in the exercise I'm dealing with now (the covering letter) that would have come in the intro para in which the writer gives title, length, series etc.

Kate Paice said...

I thought you'd have that covered, just checking!

A couple more observations!

- The book is called Dragonfire. Are there dragons in it? The plot summary doesn't suggest it. Is Polly a dragon in disguise (shape changer)? Do dragons play a role in the story? If so, mention it, that's a potentially interesting plot twist. If not, why the title?

- I'd like a sense of what threatens Polly throughout the story - the dangers of the underworld, the pursuit of Lady Serena's goons, something to give me a quick idea of what drives the middle of the story.

David P Perlmutter said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Elizabeth Dunn said...

This has a quirky, Victorian feel to it. I like the fireworks idea and Polly the Truly Disruptive Kid. To avoid falling into a synopsis-y feel maybe we need a 'why'; the emotional reason all these things are happening. What does Polly need to learn? Loved reading comments from Kate Paice, a real live fiction editor.

Cameron Writes said...

I'm not an agent so my views won't be professional BUT I liked aspects of this pitch very much. It has the air of The Golden Compass for younger readers and St.Savlon's is a great name for the care-home.
I agree that I'd prefer to know if this is a novel set in the modern age but with some nudges and winks at Victorian children's literature, or a novel set in the past.
The previous comments are much more helpful than mine but as a reader I would buy this for a grandchild. It sounds fun.

Julie Nilson said...

I agreee with Nicola, especially her comment about tightening up the writing a bit. For example, I would cut the first sentence, since it's a little bit stock and doesn't at all capture the fun, oddball qualities of your premise. Consider starting with something like "Orphaned as a baby when a firework factory exploded, Polly is followed by mysterious fires wherever she goes."

I really love your story idea ("The Care Home for Truly Disruptive Kids" is a little piece of brilliance) so I hope you can make this pitch sing!