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Friday, May 7, 2010

From Chris Richman: Winners!

The day has arrived - it's time to announce the winners of our contest with Chris Richman of Upstart Crow Literary. Mr. Richman has kindly consented to giving us an inside peek at his selection process. He's also blogging about short pitches on Upstart Crow's Blog, which if you aren't following, you should be! (Also - to bid on a half hour phone call with Chris Richman go here. There are AMAZING prizes from agents, editors, and authors to help the Tennessee flood victims!)

Winners - email me at suzettesaxton@querytracker.net for specific instructions on how to submit your material. And if you'll remember from the Prizes Post, Mr. Richman has offered to let winners skip the line! I'll give you a Special Query Access Code to bump your submission up to the top of his list. =)

And now I'll turn this post over to Chris Richman:

Synthesizing a full book into a query letter is difficult enough, but getting the entire story boiled down to 25 words or less can feel downright Sisyphean. My hat goes off to the brave souls who entered into this contest. I know it wasn’t easy, but I was pleasantly surprised by the results. There were loads of clever ideas and interesting concepts that failed to make the final cut.

So how did I make my decisions? When pouring through just short of 200 entries, the first thing I considered was, quite simply, whether the project sounded like something I’d like to read. If the project was completely outside my interests, it was crossed off. You may know from my QueryTracker profile or research you’ve done that I don’t typically go for paranormal romance, for example, so it was quite easy to dismiss these entries. Does that mean your pitch wasn’t good? Certainly not, but it may just not be good for me. This first round of considerations allowed me to cut about 75 entries from the original list.

The next stage had to do with clarity. When you’re only given 25 words to play with, it’s important to choose those words very carefully. You have to make careful decisions regarding what to include and what to eliminate to make sure the main thrust of your story comes through. A good, tight synopsis usually includes who the story is about and what the main character has to overcome. For a more thorough discussion on what makes a strong, short pitch, head to the Upstart Crow blog, where I tackle the art of the short pitch.

Applying these rules to the entries, I easily crossed an additional 50 pitches off the list. Some were too general (i.e. “A prophecy reveals a hero who must save the world”), too muddled (if I need to read through a pitch three times to understand what it’s about, that’s not a good sign), or wasted valuable words describing small details and then didn’t have enough to make the concept clear (“When the protagonist wakes up and eats breakfast on that Monday morning, including two pieces of dry toast, danger lurks”).

Next, I axed entries that didn’t quite fit the target market. Was the protagonist an appropriate age for the story? Did the word count mesh with the reading level? Was the concept something I’d seen before, or something that would have trouble finding an audience?

At this point, there were probably about 50 or so pitches remaining. Like I said, the entrants did a super job with this contest, and my selections came down mostly to personal preference and what I felt I really needed to read. If your entry wasn’t selected, please don’t be discouraged, and I hope you’ll still send me your query the old fashioned way as long as your work is in line with my tastes. For more info on how to submit and what I’m seeking, please visit: http://upstartcrowliterary.com/submit.html

Without further procrastinating, here are the runners-up and the winner. I added a few notes to help illustrate what influenced my decision.

Runners-up (Special Query Access Code, Query, 50 pages):

Buffy Andrews’ ELLA'S DANCE. Young adult. 
Pitch: A young girl learns to live again when her grandma, who dies, leaves her 365 notes, one for every day of the coming year. 
Nice concept on this pitch. This reminds me of a fascinating story recently featured on This American Life in which a dying mother wrote letters to her daughter that were delivered each year on the daughter’s birthday. We see what the thrust of the story is going to be—the girl learning to live again—and if the notes and their impact on the main characters’ life are strong enough, this could be a good read. The only concern I have is how this sounds like it may be a better concept for a middle grade audience, but perhaps I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Samantha Clark’s RUPERT AND THE GNOME FROM NOD. Middle Grade
Pitch: Garden gnome look-alike aliens declare war on humans for turning their kind into yard decorations, and 11-year-old Rupert is on a mission to stop them. 
I have a soft spot for these types of goofy setups when it comes to books for middle grade readers (for a great example, read M.T. Anderson’s Whales on Stilts). Samantha’s story sounds like fun, and there’s a clear indication of both the problem (aliens declaring war on humans) and the hero (11-year-old Rupert) with a hint of the author’s voice.

Vicki Tremper’s KWIZERA MEANS HOPE. Young adult. 
Pitch: Rwandan teenager Cecile Kwizera survived war, genocide and her father’s death in a refugee camp, and now must overcome the guilt of having survived. 
Sometimes striking the right chord with an agent or editor can be serendipitous. Author Vicki Tremper probably wasn’t aware that I found Dave Eggers’ What is the What?, about a Sudanese refugee living in America, to be one of the best books I read in 2009. My hope is that Vicki’s story carries some of the same weight.

Candace Ganger’s 9:59 REWIND. Young adult. 
Pitch: At 9:58 pm, sixteen-year-old Thursday Night Scum starlet, Caty James Greyson, catches a bullet to the chest, but at 9:59 pm, she presses rewind. 
Even though I’m not exactly sure what’s going on in this query—what, for example, is a Thursday Night Scum starlet?—the concept here, the questions it raises, and a great title all work well. I’m somewhat concerned about this being another story regarding a new take on death, of which there have been many lately, but this pitch leaves me curious as to whether this author can pull off what sounds like a risky plotline. Of course, when a story is this high concept, it’s easy to fall short of a reader’s lofty expectations.

Melissa Constantine’s SMASHING. Young adult. 
Pitch: A post-apocalyptic Breakfast Club. 
Here’s an example of a pitch that so strangely combines two diametrically opposed things—a dystopian world and a breezy, funny film from the 80s—that I simply had to know if it delivers. This is a story that could be completely disjointed, but the pitch itself was compelling enough to make me think I have to see how what the heck a post-apocalyptic Breakfast Club could possible be like.

Elizabeth Lynd’s RETURN TO MEADOWLARK. Young adult.  
Pitch: Transported to 1773, sixteen-year-old Jessie bumbles with corsets and carriages, but learning Martha Washington’s a fellow time-traveler and falling for Alexander Hamilton? Talk about complicated. 
Nice voice in this pitch, even if the extra sentence at the end did push the word count to 28. I tend to like time travel books when handled well (as in, really well), and the history angle, especially Martha Washington’s involvement, give this pitch a unique feel. The beauty of including names that are easily recognizable is that people can easily conjure up the characters you’re references more effectively than if the pitch said “but meeting a fellow-time traveler and falling for a handsome diplomat.”

Blee Bonn’s PERFECT ISLAND. Young adult
Pitch: Masquerading as a boy, seventeen-year-old Annika searches for Perfect Island in America where dry land is scarce and her virtue and freedom are at stake. 
The interesting concept pulled me in, and I’m always a fan of girls masquerading as boys, both in my Shakespeare and beyond it. I would hope more is at stake than Annika’s virtue and freedom since this sounds like a dystopian novel, but I suppose I’ll have to read some to find out!

Winner (Special Query Access Code, Query, Full Submission):

Michelle Sinclair’s VEILED IRON. Young adult. 
Pitch: In a Near-Eastern empire where football decides disputes, a girl must defy social conventions and a protective new boy to play the sport she loves. 
What can I say? I’m a nut for sports. This pitch has football, deals with gender issues, AND has a futuristic feel to it? Count me in. If executed well, this could be a very interesting project.

Congratulations to all the winners!

Thanks so much, Chris, it has been a both a pleasure and an honor to work with you!

Suzette Saxton writes books for tots, teens, and in-betweens. She is represented by Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary.


Stina said...

Woo hoo, winners! Yeah, I had a feeling you weren't into romance, Chris. :)

And thanks for the links on writing a pitch.

Kierah Jane Reilly said...

Judging from these winners, I'm getting a real sense of what you're looking for. Thanks for breaking down the whole process for us, and I hope you find a new client out of this!

Elana Johnson said...

What awesome pitches -- and I loved reading Chris's take on them.

Great contest!

Buffy Andrews said...

Thanks so much for holding this contest. And congrats to all of the winners.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this contest, and for choosing my pitch as one of the runners up. It was really interesting -- and hard -- to distill my book down to less than 25 words. I so longed to have just a few more words to use. I'm thrilled you liked it.

Thanks again, and congratulations to all the winners.

I'm Samantha Clark, by the way. :)

Elizabeth Lynd said...

These pitches were terrific, and I'm honored to be among the runners-up; thanks! Excellent work, everyone. What a terrific variety here, too; makes me excited for all the young readers who have such great books in their futures. Good luck with your submissions, writers!

Nichole Giles said...

Great pitches. Congratulations to the winners!

Natalie Aguirre said...

The pitches & Chris' comments were awesome. Congrats to the winners.

I am OK said...

Melissa Constantine's Smashing is a must read!

Congrats to all the winners.

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

Congrats to the winners!

Thank you, Chris, for choosing such interesting pitches!

Matthew MacNish said...

Yay for Candace, but congrats to all!

ChristaCarol Jones said...

MICHELLE! Yay! Congrats! and congrats to all the other winners!

Kristan said...

Wow, there were some excellent pitches in here! As in, if the books were good, I would not hesitate to buy them. Loved the commentary too. Thanks for doing this, y'all!

Anonymous said...

Oh wow, I go away for a weekend of no internet access and look what happens! Thank you Chris for giving us specific comments on what worked for you in these pitches. Congrats to all :-) I'm honored and thrilled.