Pitching Genres: What the Heck do I Write?

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I talked about this subject back on Jan. 28, 2008, when I was looking for the old manuscript of one of my out of print mysteries. This time it’s the response to a phone chat with a writer pal who is ready to start the submission process. I had told her to practice her blurb, and she said, “I don’t know what to call it when I blurb it.”

I said, “It’s historical fantasy. Ummm, wait. It’s alternate history fantasy. Ummm. Okay, it’s alternate-history, historical-paranormal. Yeah. Hmmm. That’s a mouthful. With a little thriller tossed in. Hmmm. We need to work on this.”

Kingdoms, princes and princesses, a pirate or two, a rogue, a mage or sorcerer, attack by demons and dark forces, maybe some romance tossed in, a witch or seven, or in my case, a seraph or a vampire hunter or two, mix it all well in our imaginations. That’s fantasy. If it works, it also gives us subgenres.

In my pal’s case, it’s a slightly different world with magic, and in a general sense, that’s what makes it fantasy, but it’s the mix that makes it fall into a subgenre. She has real places – London, the Caribbean islands – and a real historical context, with real church vs. state conflicts, and the fear of witchcraft. But it takes place in an alternate version of our history, one with magic. She has real people tossed in too, which, like DB Jackson’s Thieftaker, makes it a challenge to write and to blurb properly to a potential agent. In David’s case, he already had an agent. The book and subgenre conversation about a new series could take place over a leisurely meal or on the phone with their feet propped up. In my pal’s case, she might have to make the old eleven-second elevator-pitch. So her spiel has to be perfect, well-rehearsed, and ready to deliver.

At conferences, agents, writers and editor take part in pitch sessions, where unpublished writers pitch books at them and then get instant feedback. I love doing this, and I love, almost as much, listening in on the pitch sessions taking place to either side of me. I once heard an agent ask an unpublished fantasy writer, “What’s your subgenre, here?”  Manuscript pages were turning. The agent was reading a line here or there. She was very intent, and I could tell she was interested. And the writer looked like a possum in the headlights of an oncoming car. Agent said, “Are you writing romantic epic?  Erotic standalone?” The writer’s answer was, “Uh….” I wanted to laugh or cry or maybe both. Fortunately, the agent in question was not exhausted, was nice, and she helped the writer find the proper place, that small spot of certainty in the writing world. The subgenre.

“Uh…,” is the way many of us feel when we are starting a new series or new manuscript and are in the phase of world building. We are still trying to figure out what we are writing. Even after multiple books, we sometimes still have the *what am I writing* problem. Fortunately, in the *got books published* stage, we aren’t writing in a vacuum and can get help from agents, other writers, even editors.

When I wrote about this subject back in 2008, I said, “My favorite type of fantasy is urban fantasy. Sometimes dark urban fantasy. And I’m not averse to reading dark urban erotic fantasy. What’s that?  It’s a current day, alternate reality universe, where vampires and werewolves and/or other mythical (wink-wink) creatures live among us humans. When you mix into the story some of the current geopolitical reality, a few gritty subtexts, like American cops and American history, mythos, and lore, you get urban fantasy. When you make it violent and dangerous, it becomes dark urban reality.  When you add in hot sex, you get the erotic part. Duh.”

Back then, I made the mistake of not giving you my blurb, with subgenre, as example. So, though I’ve done this a time or two in the past, here is one (slightly long, 88 word) version:

Jane Yellowrock is a Cherokee skinwalker, perhaps the last of her kind, and a hunter of rogue vampires. When the Vampire Council of New Orleans invites her to hunt down and kill a particularly violent rogue, she accepts the challenge, and encounters both the first sane vamps she has ever met, and the most dangerous rogue she has ever hunted. Set in modern day New Orleans, Skinwalker is a dark urban fantasy, with some elements of romance, but an emphasis on the violent art of killing the undead.

Because we have new readers, and older readers may not have worked on their pitch recently, I’m offering a pitch session.

Pitch your work here in 150 words or less (less is better because that means you have done some work on it already) and I (and any other MW contributors who have time to jump in) will help you strengthen your pitch. And because we have a tiny weather problem in the US right now, J and some of us may not have Internet access, I’ll reply to the responses for the whole week.

Faith Hunter
FaithHunter.Net
GwenHunter.Com

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106 comments to Pitching Genres: What the Heck do I Write?

  • Tom G

    This sounds like fun. Here’s mine.

    Sable Hart is a vampire hunter who stakes the consort of an especially blood-thirsty Russian vampire, and finds herself the hunted. She fights the good fight, but finds herself caught and Changed. Well, that really pisses her off. Instead of joining the ranks of the undead and helping them turn Dallas into a homeland for vampires, she uses her newfound abilities to hunt down and kill her would-be master. Black Heart is a dark Urban Fantasy set in Dallas and Fort Worth.

  • *sigh* Alas, I am between projects. I shelved one to let it simmer and started a new one. Unfortunately the new one is not far enough developed for a meaningful pitch.

    So if I may, I would like to ask a question… When is it best to narrow to a subgenre? In the development stage or wait until the book is written? Does it matter?

    Ok, I guess that is three questions… 😉

  • Julia

    Thank you, Faith! I’d really appreciate feedback on my blurb:

    When a demon attack shatters the peace of Jalavre, Alverai breaks his country’s strict taboo against violence and his own rigorous isolation. Alverai can hear the living connections of the world as music. His unique sensitivity allows him to be guardian and guide to the elite Bladesworn who defend their tiny, pacifist land. Alverai forsook all human ties in order to hone his gift. But when he saves Damien’s life, the touch kindles a forbidden bond — forcing Alverai to choose between duty to his land and duty to his heart. Symphony in Mist is a fantasy novel, complete at 90,000 words.

    I’ve not specified a sub-genre — it makes me feel like the writer you described above! 🙂

  • Tom said >> Sable Hart is a vampire hunter who stakes the consort of an especially blood-thirsty Russian vampire, and finds herself the hunted. She fights the good fight, but finds herself caught and Changed. Well, that really pisses her off. Instead of joining the ranks of the undead and helping them turn Dallas into a homeland for vampires, she uses her newfound abilities to hunt down and kill her would-be master. Black Heart is a dark Urban Fantasy set in Dallas and Fort Worth.

    Okay — the tone of the blurb starts out soundign like historical fantasy. Then the language (your word choice) jumps into urban. Ther is bit a passive voice, and word choice that might be called trite (fights the good fight). So here is my version:

    In Black Heart — a modern day, dark Urban Fantasy –Sable Hart is a vampire hunter who stakes the consort of a dangerous blood-thirsty Russian vampire, and finds herself the hunted. Despite all her fighting skills, Sable is caught and Changed. Which really pisses her off. Instead of joining the ranks of the undead and helping them turn Dallas into a homeland for vampires, she uses her newfound abilities to hunt down and kill her would-be master.

  • Mark asked >> When is it best to narrow to a subgenre?

    Before you pitch.

    >>In the development stage or wait until the book is written? Does it matter?

    Depends on when you pitch. If you are a published author, you will already have an outline from which you can create the pitch blurb. If you are writing on spec, unpublished, with no contract, then the blurb comes *before* you try it out on an agent.

  • Tom G

    Faith, I like it! Thanks

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Oh terror! I have no idea how to define the sub-genre for my WIP. It’s fantasy, but with a very limited emphasis on magic and… Well, I’ll give it a go anyway.

    It’s been fifteen years since the death of the old King and his heir, and now his youngest son’s barbarian bride rules in his place. By her law, more than a thousand souls have been executed, or imprisoned in the dark places beneath the Citadel. But now a resistance has risen, ready to do what it takes to bring her reign to an end. As their violent attacks shake the city, a young soldier of the elite guard – marked by the Queen at his blood oath – must decide who he’s fighting for, while Lailah, newly recruited to the resistance, struggles to find her place, one that will ensure she has vengeance for the death of her father. A Veil of Law is a dark fantasy that…

    Sorry this is terrible, thanks for offering to take a look!

  • Unicorn

    A pitch session? My first thought: HOORAY! This is EXACTLY what I need! My second thought: I’m gonna sound so *stupid*.
    All right, I’ll try to pitch my novel, which is only in its second draft so is subject to change. Oh, and I’ve dubbed it “Sparrowhawk” for the moment after a heroine (yes, I know, the name has been used before and it’s bugging me but that’s another story…) but I’m looking for a new title.

    Sparrowhawk is my epic fantasy young adult novel. It is set in an alternate world where magic is part of everyday life. Even the mustangs of the mountains are rumoured to have unicorn blood in their veins – particularly, a wild and beautiful silver filly. Falcon, a troubled boy who lives alongside the filly, has been watching her since her birth. And when an ancient monster seeking vengeance for the death of his mate attacks them, Falcon suddenly depends on the filly for survival. Fighting against the vengeful beast, Falcon and the filly have only one chance of winning: their deep friendship. But there is far more to the monster than either of them could ever guess.

    That does sound stupid… But oh well. I’ll take the plunge. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.
    And thank you so much for offering to do this, Faith.
    Unicorn

  • Mikaela

    *bats away the new idea( = yesterday)* Here we go:
    Angel among Demons is a(currently) novella set in hell.

    Shaitan wants to maintain the balance, the Imps want to wake up Lilith, Lucifer wants to escape from hell. Caught in their tug of war is Kate O’Ryan, a twentysomething librarian, who really shouldn’t be in Hell. To survive, she must decide who is telling her the truth, and who is lying.

    Could be better, but I am not used to blurbing 🙂

  • It’s hard being a young female troll. First off, unless you’re really special, you haven’t earned a name and everyone just calls you “Troll Wife”. Second, it’s hard to get work because, hey, you’re a troll. Third, you don’t have any friends because again, hey, troll.

    So when Troll Wife gets accepted into the tooth fairy training program, she wants three things: a job, to make friends, and earn a name. She’s not concerned about why tooth fairies collect teeth and she certainly isn’t thinking about monsters.

    But there is a monster. Oubliette is determined to kill any human that hasn’t kept the terms of an ancient pact between the humans and the fae. Any child that has lost a tooth but hasn’t received money for it yet hasn’t kept the pact.

    When a tooth fairy has to save the world, it’s best if that tooth fairy is a troll.

    “Troll Wife” is Suburban Fantasy.

    (Thank you for doing this, as I feel like I’m floundering here. I’m also torn about creating a new subgenre… Urban Fantasy is well known, but my book is softer in tone, with less dirt, grit and blood. It’s the suburbs of fantasy!)

  • Ooh! I’ll play. Thanks for doing this, Faith. I’m getting ready to send out query letters to agents, so this is perfectly timed!

    This is for Hell Mary: Full of Fire an 85,000 word urban-fantasy set in the South.

    Here are two different ones for the same novel, just different takes on them (they’re each 100 words):

    Mary is a demon slayer with the demonic power of hellfire. Though she uses it to destroy demons, Mary’s no angel: she got the power through murder. Now, the demon that originally possessed it, Semiramis, is back and hunting her down. Mary wants nothing more than to get rid of the hellfire, but she is forced to join up with Jesse, a demon-slaying priest, and Quentin, a handsome vampire with demonic powers of his own. If they can’t stop Semiramis coming back into the world, the hellfire will be the least of her worries. After all, hell hath no fury…

    Mary is a demon slayer with the demonic power of hellfire. But Mary’s no angel: she left Thomas to a demon, and the hellfire, with a will of its own, whispers to her to let it out and let the rotten world burn. Now the past is back to haunt her. Thomas is working for Semiramis, the demon who originally possessed the hellfire, and they’re hunting Mary down. She must join with Jesse, a demon-slaying priest, and Quentin, a handsome vampire with demonic powers of his own to stop Semiarmis from gathering other demonic powers and taking over the world.

    Thanks for taking the time! 🙂

  • I think this is sounding more like a query than an elevator pitch. Here goes nothing.

    In my epic fantasy, Song of Fury, Haldren is a history scribe, competing in a wrestling tourney for extra coins. When a songmaster in the crowd recites previously forbidden lyrics, a rift opens in Haldren’s chest, siphoning magic from another realm and driving him into a berserker fury. After the sand settles, the other wrestler is dead, and the soldiers drag Haldren away for murder.

    Faced with a death sentence in the copper mines, Haldren considers the army’s proposal of learning to control his anger in exchange for three years service. He reluctantly joins them, hoping to master the fury before he returns to his family. Instead, he becomes the first in a squad of berserkers that the army hopes to use against the expanding Magerium. (126)

  • Faith and I have talked about this before on pitch related posts. I tend to prefer a pitch that is geared toward marketing rather than plot. I also like to keep my pitches to fifteen words or fewer. Thieftaker: “Thieftaker is historical urban fantasy — Harry Dresden [Jim Butcher’s magical private eye] meets Samuel Adams.” The Sorcerer’s Plague: “The Sorcerers’ Plague is epic fantasy — a medieval medical thriller.”

    If whoever I’m pitching to wants more, then I can go into greater detail. Thieftaker: “Ethan Kaille is a thieftaker, an eighteenth century private investigator. He is also a conjurer. In pre-Revolutionary Boston, on the eve of the Stamp Act riots, a young woman, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is murdered. To find her killer, Ethan must navigate the increasingly treacherous waters of colonial politics; outwit his rival, the lovely and deadly Sephira Pryce; and grapple with a shadowy sorcerer who wields magic the likes of which he has never encountered before.”

  • mudepoz

    I think about such things, blush, feel embarrassed, and drop it.
    Hm. Local and world news meets teenager?
    Short enough.

    Interesting. Well, at least I’ll have a nice stack of new books from youse guys:)

  • Ah! DavidBCoe, thank you! In that case, ignore mine.

    The pared down version would be “A troll becomes a tooth fairy.” Or possibly, “When a tooth fairy has to save the world, it’s best if that tooth fairy is a troll.”

  • Julia

    Pea Faerie — I really enjoyed your blurb. I found myself playing with ways to combine aspects of both versions. In case it’s helpful to you, I’ve posted what I came up with below:

    Mary is a demon slayer with the power of hellfire at her command. But Mary’s no angel: she left Thomas to a demon and her hellfire has a will of its own. It whispers to her to let it free so the rotten world will burn. Now Thomas is now working for the demon, and they’re hunting Mary down. To stop them, Mary joins forces with a priest and a handsome vampire with demonic powers of his own…

  • Jumping in with mine – really struggling with genre for this one – and like NGDave, this is more query than elevator, if that’s ok.

    Monday morning, Ben Snow headed into an average day. By Friday, four days were missing, with only wisps of memories for explanation. His aging body is now the athletic build of his youth, and the only thing he added to his bland routine is a little bit of astral projection.

    When a stranger appears and offers to fill in the blanks, Ben is wary. Revealing a family secret no one bothered to share, the stranger tells Ben he is genetically coded to prevent epic disasters.

    And it’s time to teach his daughter, Abi.

    Loathe to spend time with his pierced, leather-wearing hellion of a daughter, Ben declines the invitation and considers the matter settled.

    Now Abi’s found the family dirt and wants a piece of the action.

    Slipping and sliding through the obstacles of their sketchy relationship while learning the family trade, Ben and Abi find common ground in their hybrid reality.

    They have no idea the universe is about to come calling with an unavoidable job offer.

  • This is a pitch that got my foot in the door with a publisher… still waiting to hear back on the complete MS … the criteria was 150 words or less.

    A short-tempered Immortal and three incongruous shamans with commitment issues must harness the most powerful force in existence to save the Gallery, a web of corridors linking the worlds of the Mortal Realm, before it destroys them.
    They are aided by a thrice-born warrior who cannot die, a bureaucrat who has lived almost forever, and an Archivist who knows too many secrets.
    Using technology and magic, they leave the convoluted politics of their home world and journey through the fragmented corridors of the dying Gallery into realms of otherworldly existence where only the strong and talented survive.
    Their lives entwine in unexpected ways as they fulfil their destiny, and become unsuspecting pawns in a game that lasts for a thousand generations.
    All the characters in this story are women, and most, by inference or direct admission, are lesbians. This isn’t a world without men, they’re just not mentioned.

  • Right after I wrote the second reply, the hubby walks into the room and says, “Hey, the river’s running. Let’s go!”

    And I did. Four hours later I am back, and full of apologies. Ready to wrk. I’ll start at the top and work my way through! But first I’ll say that David B Coe’s (DB Jackson’s) blurbs are great! The *fits into the market nitch* short version is a perfect elevator pitch, and his *tell me more* version needs no work at all. Perfect!

    Julia said >> When a demon attack shatters the peace of Jalavre, Alverai breaks his country’s strict taboo against violence and his own rigorous isolation. Alverai can hear the living connections of the world as music. His unique sensitivity allows him to be guardian and guide to the elite Bladesworn who defend their tiny, pacifist land. Alverai forsook all human ties in order to hone his gift. But when he saves Damien’s life, the touch kindles a forbidden bond — forcing Alverai to choose between duty to his land and duty to his heart. Symphony in Mist is a fantasy novel, complete at 90,000 words.

    Julia, there is awfully lot happening here, and your world is unusual enough that you are forced to share both plot and world-building in the blurb. It’s too mucn for a spoken blurb, but would be great as is for a written one in a pitch/query letter. For a spoken one, how about this:

    Alverai, guardian and guide to the elite Bladesworn, hears the living connections of the world as music. But when a demon attack shatters the peacful melody of his homeland, Alverai must forsake his gift and his country’s taboo against violence, and choose between duty and his heart. Symphony in Mist is a 90,000 word fantasy novel.

    This is still long, but it’s getting there.

  • Tom, glad you like it!

    Hep said >> It’s been fifteen years since the death of the old King and his heir, and now his youngest son’s barbarian bride rules in his place. By her law, more than a thousand souls have been executed, or imprisoned in the dark places beneath the Citadel. But now a resistance has risen, ready to do what it takes to bring her reign to an end. As their violent attacks shake the city, a young soldier of the elite guard – marked by the Queen at his blood oath – must decide who he’s fighting for, while Lailah, newly recruited to the resistance, struggles to find her place, one that will ensure she has vengeance for the death of her father. A Veil of Law is a dark fantasy that…

    Hep, in my opinion, you are starting with the wrong character — the BBU rather than the MC. You also don’t give me the name of the young soldier, who, along with Lialah, are (I think) the MCs, yes? And at soem point, they meet and fight together? If all this is so, then I’ll name the young soldier Jethro, and offer this to get you started:

    Jethro, a member of the elite guard, was marked by the Barbarian Queen’s magic at his blood oath. Now, he must decide who he’s fighting for, the queen’s soul-destroying regime or the world of the old king. Lailah, newly recruited to the resistance, seeks to ensure a bloody vengeance for the death of her father. A Veil of Law is a dark fantasy where the two unlikely opponents meet, and wage a secret war.

    I know I added in a lot of variables you didn’t mention, but reading between the lines might give you an idea how to tighten it all. In your case, the protags are the emphasis, not the world or the BBU. Play with it and I’d like to see what you come up with!

  • Sarah

    Hi Faith and David! Thank you so much for doing this

    Here’s my Faith pitch (the long one):

    Harvey may be a berserker with a cursed sword, but she’s also a single mom in rustbelt Buffalo. For her kids’ sake, she’s abandoned her drinking buddies, suppressed her berserker urges, and buried the sword. But her warlock brother Heidrek wants the sword for himself and he’s made a pact with the Winter to get it. With frost demons and worse swarming the city, Harvey will need all the things she’s buried in order to save her kids and stop the endless winter Heidrek has unleashed. Winter’s Dawn is an urban fantasy with some romance elements.

    Here’s the David pitch (short one):
    Winter’s Dawn is an urban fantasy – it’s Conan the Barbarian’s smarter, meaner sister in modern day Buffalo. (Does that sound like I mean it literally, not analogously?)

    PS – Unicorn, are you writing YA? My first thought reading your blurb was that I’d have absolutely devoured that book during my horse crazed youth. It still sounds cool to me now mind you, I just mean that there might be a niche for it in the 12-17 year old girl crowd.

  • Julia

    Faith, thank you! That’s fantastic. I love “shatters the peaceful melody of his homeland.”

    Thanks for the positive feedback on my written blurb. I boiled it down from my 2-paragraph query, which I’m getting ready to send out. I’m posting the query text below, in case you have a moment to take a look. I’m curious if you think the 1-paragraph version I posted earlier is more effective? I struggle with how much world-building to include.

    Feel free to ignore this, if you don’t have the time. I really appreciate your generosity in doing this!

    When Alverai saves Damien from a demon strike, he breaks his country’s strict taboo against violence and initiates a forbidden bond. For the past seven years, Alverai has trained in absolute isolation, honing the gift that allows him to hear the living connections of the world as music. Once he becomes Watcher of Jalavre, Alverai will guard and guide the Bladesworn, the elite cadre of men and women who defend their tiny, pacifist country. The Bladesworn vow not to kill. Instead, when sword meets skin, they pass on to their enemies a searing, undeniable awareness of the unity of all life.

    But the Bladesworn are struggling for survival against an evil they do not understand. Demon murders haunt the land, the Mist that once surrounded and shielded Jalavre is in tatters, and the people are turning against the way of peace. After the last Watcher is murdered in her Tower, Alverai races to the border to take up her mantle. A Watcher must forgo all human ties or risk being destroyed by his own gift. Yet on the cusp of his investiture, Alverai finds himself falling in love with Damien and hiding a dangerous secret about the demon that hunts them. As he tries to unravel the trap poised to destroy his country, Alverai will either shatter the Mist and the Bladesworn — or transform them both forever.

  • Hi Unicorn. You do NOT soung stupid. You what is stupid? To have a place, a time, a site, and a writer willing to help and not use it.

    You said >> Sparrowhawk is my epic fantasy young adult novel. It is set in an alternate world where magic is part of everyday life. Even the mustangs of the mountains are rumoured to have unicorn blood in their veins – particularly, a wild and beautiful silver filly. Falcon, a troubled boy who lives alongside the filly, has been watching her since her birth. And when an ancient monster seeking vengeance for the death of his mate attacks them, Falcon suddenly depends on the filly for survival. Fighting against the vengeful beast, Falcon and the filly have only one chance of winning: their deep friendship. But there is far more to the monster than either of them could ever guess.

    Unicorn, one tiny thing that I changed below is the use of the word *monster*, which is typically used for horror novels. Other than I tightened it a bit, took out the word *epic*, added the word *complete* and a (fake)word count. When young people write, it is helpful for an agent or editor to know *right away* that the novel is done.

    My thoughts: Falcon lives alongside the mountain mustangs which are rumoured to have unicorn blood in their veins. The troubled boy has been watching over a silver filly since her birth, and when an ancient evil seeks vengeance for the death of his mate, Falcon and the filly have one chance of survival: their deep, abiding friendship. Sparrowhawk is a 90,000 word, completed, young adult fantasy.

  • Mikaela, I like it. It’s tight, concise, and clean. I like that you open with the conflict. It works well here. Two things I’d change is to make all usages of Hell capped and move your first descriptive line to last:

    Shaitan wants to maintain the balance, the Imps want to wake up Lilith, Lucifer wants to escape from Hell. Caught in their tug of war is Kate O’Ryan, a twentysomething librarian, who really shouldn’t be in Hell. To survive, she must decide who is telling the truth, and who is lying. Angel among Demons is a novella.

  • Susi, you are NOT floundering! You have great ideas and I LOVE the idea of the suburban fantasy!

    I am not copying your original offering, but jumping into your idea. First, your blurb can use the word *monsters* becasue it’s funny, and clearly not horror. Second, your blurb can be longer than some, because you open with such an unusual and humorous concept — Trolls!
    My thoughts:

    It’s hard being a young female troll. First, you haven’t earned a name, so everyone calls you “Troll Wife”. Second, it’s hard to get work because, hey, you’re a troll. Third, you don’t have any friends because again, hey, troll.

    Troll Wife wants three things: a job, to make friends, and to earn a name, so when she’s accepted into the tooth fairy training program, she’s not concerned about why tooth fairies collect teeth and she certainly isn’t thinking about monsters.

    When a tooth fairy has to save the world, it’s best if that tooth fairy is a troll. “Troll Wife” is a Suburban Fantasy.

    Lastly, I love this pitch. It’s funny, and in this era of dark fantasies, I bet you get lots of positive responces.

  • Pea — they are both good, and either would work perfectly for a written or sit-down pitch. For the elevator pitch, both need to be much shorter, much like David did on his short one.

    Mary is a demon slayer who gained the demonic power of hellfire through murder. Now, the demon who originally possessed it is hunting her, and she is forced to join up with a demon-slaying priest and a handsome vampire with demonic powers of his own. Hell hath no fury…

    As for the second one, I think Julia did a great job on it!

  • englishpixie

    Picking up a passenger is against the rules, but Curiosity needs the money, and she’s the only Dragonbird Messenger with a ‘bird strong enough to ride tandem. Brendan ap Gwn is an offer she can’t refuse.

    The death of a High Lady and the rescue of a murderer were not part of the deal. And when his prison is in the centre of a poisonous wasteland, and guarded by a man on fire, the only way to reach him alive is to fly…

    …Curiosity and her dragonbird Pachua are going to have to go far beyond delivering the mail.

    Dragonbird is a 90,000 word fantasy set in a world of reptiles and ancient technology, where sometimes cold blood runs the hottest.

  • NDave:
    It’s a great opening, but it’s too long. I took out mention of the genre, because that is clear from the blurb itself. Also, what is the Magerium?
    Here’s my thoughts with a (fake) Magerium:

    In Song of Fury, Haldren is a history scribe, wrestling for extra coin. When a songmaster opens a rift to steal power, in the middle of a match, Haldren becomes a berserker, and is dragged away for murder. Faced with a death sentence, Haldren reluctantly joins the army, hoping to master the fury. Instead, he becomes the first in a squad of berserkers that the military hopes to use against the expanding Magerium–the dark mages across the mountains.

    Or, shorter, (elevator pitch) and skip the title:
    When a songmaster opens a rift to steal power, Haldren inadvertantly becomes a berserker and kills. Faced with a death sentence, he instead joins the military and a squad of berserkers who go up against the Magerium–the dark mages across the mountains.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Jethro…is actually pretty close to the character’s name. Thanks very much for your comments, though I fear this next attempt has made things worse rather than better. Three main POVs (I skipped one in the last try) with really no interaction between them, at least for this book of the story. Anybody’s suggestions for how to shorten that sort of thing into an actual elevator pitch would be welcome.
    And, the next attempt is:

    Jhohann Blackaxe, a young soldier of the elite guard, is honor sworn to serve King and country, but a barbarian Queen rules in Holdingfast, and her justice is bloody. Now, a resistance has arisen, whose methods are as abominable as the Queen’s rule. Jhohann has sworn his life for the people, but something of the dark Queen calls to him.

    Rescued by the resistance, Chysaala, the King’s mistress and pregnant with his child, flees into the mountains away from the Queen’s wrath. But, there she finds worse atrocities than those kept within the city’s gates.

    Lailah is new to the resistance and sees vengeance for the death of her father in the war to come. But she finds that war just out of reach when she is assigned to learn to help save lives, rather than to take them. She may have to seek her vengeance alone.

  • Faith> Thanks! Yeah, this is for letters, since I don’t have a chance to be at places to meet agents in elevators for 11 second blurbs.

    Julia> Thanks for the combo idea–I think that’s a good one and I’ll combine them. And thanks for the compliment. I’m hoping people want to read the book! 😀

    Suzi> You’re troll-as-toothfairy story sounds awesome! I’d totally pick up that book and read it!

    I think a lot of the stories here sound really cool and interesting! Stuff I’d pick up and read.

  • Mud, give me more. Embarrassment has no place here. Seriously. We work together.

    David, you always do great pitches!

    Suzi, I love the short blurb! Perfect!

    Julia I think you did a great job with Pea’s second one. You got the concept of the blurb!

  • Hi Survival. I like the relationship problems in your query. But it comes across a little loose. How about this:

    When aging Ben Snow woke on Friday, four days were missing. He now has the athletic build of his youth, and the gift of astral projection. A stranger appears and reveals a family secret no one bothered to share – that Ben is genetically coded to prevent epic disasters. And it’s time to teach his daughter, Abi.

    Ben declines the invitation to spend time with his pierced, leather-wearing hellion of a child, until Abi uncovers the family dirt and demands a piece of the action.

    Manuvering through the obstacles of their volitile relationship while learning the new family trade, Ben and Abi begin to find common ground. But they have no idea the universe is about to come calling with an unavoidable job offer.

    It feels a little tighter, but I bet you can tighten it some more.

  • Amy Sandbak

    I am struggling to categorize my WIP (currently at 60,000 words), so I was excited to read your post on subgenres. I believe my novel is High Fantasy. The part I’m struggling with is whether to label it “Upper Middle Grade” or “Young Adult”, since my target audience is 10-14 year olds. Does you know if it would hurt to categorize a book as Young Adult, if an agent decides it’s really Middle Grade (or to mislabel any book with the incorrect subgenre)?

    Short Pitch: A fourteen-year-old boy, Migo, uses his ability to mentally link with animals to save his kingdom from an invading army of Sasquatch.

    Extended Version:
    Few on the planet Thrae are born with special powers. The power to see into the future, to control the weather, to transform elements into machines with bare hands. Migo, a fourteen-year-old, can communicate with animals.

    Migo and his twin brother, Tam, have been summoned to the palace for training. They discover one of the twins is destined to become the Bloodline, the person who will lead the kingdom against a prophesized Sasquatch invasion. Migo believes his brother will be the hero.

    If Magical Word isn’t the correct website to distinguigh between MG & YA, perhaps could you just tell me if “High Fantasy” sounds like the correct subgenre?

    I’ve been reading Magical Words daily for the past few months, and I appreciate all of the insight the authors are willing to share with those of us just starting our careers. Thank you all!

  • Hi Widdershins!
    It’s a bit loose and long, even for a query.
    For the elevator pitch *and* the query, I’d go with something much shorter like:

    A short-tempered Immortal and three shamans with commitment issues must harness the most powerful force in existence to save the Gallery, a web of corridors linking the worlds of the Mortal Realm, before it destroys them. All the characters are women, and most, by inference or direct statement, are lesbian. This isn’t a world without men, they’re just not mentioned.

    The reason I’d keep it short and sweet, and yet still mention the lesbian component, is three-fold:
    1. some agents may not know of houses that eager for such books,
    2. others might want you to change this out or diminish it a lot if they liked it otherwise.
    3. And yet other agents and publishing houses will jump for joy at that particular mention.

    Therefore, keeping it right up front will be benefit no matter what. Also, if they like the short pitch, they’ll ask you for the longer one. When an agent or editor asks questions that is a GOOD thing!

  • Juila, my first thought on the long query was, “This is way too long.” Then, it sucked me in. So I am changing my mind. For the written query, go with what you have, provided you can get the rest of the requirements for a professional query into a one page letter.

  • Hi Sarah!
    I adore the Harvey pitches — both of them.
    You did *very* well!

    And your comment to Unicorn is dead on. Magical horses??!!?? Go Unicorn!

  • E’pixie,
    What you have is great for when an agent or editor says, “Tell me more.” But you need to shorten it a LOT for the elevator pitch. I’d go with something like:

    Picking up a passenger is against the rules, but Curiosity needs the money, and she’s the only Dragonbird Messenger with a ‘bird strong enough to ride tandem. Now, Curiosity and her dragonbird Pachua are going to have to go far beyond delivering the mail in a world where sometimes cold blood runs the hottest.

  • Hep, in a book like you describe, you may have to say something like:

    In a world ruled by violence, both on the Throne and in the Resistance, three fighters rise and take up the mantle for the future:
    Jhohann Blackaxe, a young soldier of the elite guard, honor sworn to serve King and country, but marked by the Queen. Chysaala, the King’s mistress, pregnant with his child. And Lailah, a young resistance fighter seeking vengence for her father’s bloody death.

    Then when they want more, you have it ready to go!

  • Faith, your big heart is surpassed only by your words of wisdom… thank you

  • englishpixie

    Thank you so much for the help, Faith 🙂 I really appreciate it.

  • Hi Amy. I can’t think of a better place to ask such questions. And yes, *I* think it is important to distinguish between age groups for yoru readers, because some editors only work in certain age groups, and some agents have better contacts with certain editors.

    I’d just say, I’m writing a book for ten to fourteen year olds.

    Your short pitch is great as is. For the long one I’d clarify a few lines and add one line at the end.

    A very few people on the planet Thrae are born with special gifts: the power to see into the future, to control the weather, to transform elements into machines with their bare hands. Migo, a fourteen-year-old, can communicate with animals.

    Migo and his twin brother, Tam, have been summoned to the palace for training. One of them is destined to become the Bloodline, the person who will lead the kingdom against a prophesized Sasquatch invasion. Migo believes his brother will be the hero. Migo is wrong.

    Or something similar to the last line to bait and hook the agent/editor.

  • Widder, you make me blush!
    E’pixie, you are welcome.

  • Amy Sandbak

    Thanks, Faith, both for the personal advice and for your posts in general! 🙂

  • Julia

    Faith, thank you! I’m excited that the query sucked you in. That’s fantastic.

    Sarah, I loved your blurb and can’t wait to read your book!

    Amy, do you know of the blog Editorial Anonymous, which is written by a children’s book editor? If not, you might check it out. I recall her suggesting that one of the differences between the “Middle-Grade” category and the “Young Adult” category was the theme and tone of the books. The line I remember was something like: “Middle-Grade books can have doubt, but not depression; flirting, but not seduction.” Hope that’s helpful…

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Thank you so much for your suggestions. I’m going to have to mash it around in my brain for a while, but I can see how the structure you suggest works well, and your contracted character descriptions fit really well too. Thank you again!

  • You all are welcome. This is fun!

  • Wow. Awesome. Thanks faith. The Magerium is an imperialistic society ruled by mages. They’re across the lakes and plains, but the mountains are in the distance. *grin*

  • Hmmm. (taps crystal ball) It *is* a little cloudy today.

  • Razziecat

    Sarah! Urban fantasy in Buffalo–?! Awesome! Hello from Black Rock/Riverside! 🙂

    Faith, you are an angel. Thank you so much for doing this. This is fascinating. OK, here goes:

    What if the Divine Son and the Fallen God were one and the same? When an ancient dark god is reborn, priest-mage Erasmus Thorne, his gifted protégé Cullen Emory and their colleagues fight to save their world from the god’s reawakened evil. To succeed they must survive a deadly plague, defeat the forces of a renegade mage and learn to wield Cullen’s own wild magic before it destroys him.

    That’s it in a nutshell. There are other priest-mages involved who play important roles, and the main villain, the renegade mage, is the reborn god’s devotee…and a more powerful mage than any of the good guys, to boot. I’m not sure how detailed a blurb should get.

  • Writing the blurb was easier than trying to identify the sub-genre, but here goes.

    Currently untitled: Suggestions welcome!

    Fantasy Quest/Adventure/Adult Humor

    Shalen is on a quest to find the wizard who cursed her, to make him lift his spell. Shalen was a barmaid until she slapped the grabby, drunken bastard. Now, she’s a shapeshifter. She can become any animal at any time. The problem is she doesn’t have a lot of control over the whens or the whats of her changes – it’s a curse, remember? Shalen changes into animal shape at the drop of an emotion, which makes questing tricky, especially when horses are afraid of bears and a mouse doesn’t exactly intimidate a horse-thief.

  • Oh – and THANK YOU, FAITH!!!!!
    (I got all carried away with the assignment. My bad!)

  • Wow, this is harder than I thought. I picked “epic fantasy” as my genre because the story has multiple nations drawn into conflict and world encompassing “evil”.

    Here goes:

    Vanadian wakes up from blood filled dreams of death, alone and naked in a forest. His last memory is of a murder he fears he may have committed. Haunted by betrayal and caught in a civil war, he must discover who he is and what he has done before he is doomed to repeat his failures. Princess Candia West, sole surviving heir to the throne, must fight to regain her family’s place and uncover the plotting that led to the war. But the civil war hides the true machinations of ancient opposing forces. Are Vanadian and the princess working to stop a great good by fighting what they think is a terrible evil? In The West Queen, an epic fantasy completed at 120,000 words, not every murder is evil and not every salvation is good.

  • Razzie, that is excellent. Very good blurb, and I wouldn’t change a thing. One thought — the character names remind me of Katherine Kurtz, somehow. Or I am just being dumb? Which is likely, come to think of it… It’s been a long day!

    Lyn — I totally suck at titles. I’ve had 22 books published and I came up with maybe 5 of the titles. I like your sub genre ideas. Very good! Okay, your blurb. It stops a bit short I think, and it needs tightening, but working with what I have (and offering a bit as suggestion at the end):

    Shalen was a barmaid until she slapped a grabby, drunken wizard. Now she’s on a quest to find the bastard and make him lift the curse that turned her into a shapeshifter. Shalen can become any animal at any time. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have a lot of control over it – it’s a curse, remember? Shalen changes animal shapes at the drop of an emotion, which makes questing tricky, especially when horses are afraid of bears and a mouse doesn’t exactly intimidate a horse-thief. In a Fantasy Quest/Adult Humor/Adventure tale, Shalen and her new ex-(he swears)horsethief friend track down the wizard, only to find the curse was more than it seemed.

    Like that. Play with it bit, and try it again with a bit more info at the back end. And maybe play with this bit again too: especially when horses are afraid of bears and a mouse doesn’t exactly intimidate a horse-thief. This part implies something humorous happens, but leaves the reader (okay, I mean me) flummoxed.

  • Hi Scion, yeah, epic sounds right.

    Your blurb would work fine as-is in a written query, but it’s too long for a spoken elevator pitch. SO let me play with it a bit.

    Vanadian wakes from blood filled dreams, alone and naked in a forest. His only memory is of a murder he fears he committed. Princess Candia West, sole surviving heir to the throne, must fight to regain her family’s crown. But a civil war hides the true machinations of ancient opposing forces. In The West Queen, an epic fantasy completed at 120,000 words, not every murder is evil and not every salvation is good.

  • ajp88

    Knew I should have checked in earlier. Hope I’m not too late!

    David’s way: Sword of the Sorcerer is dark epic fantasy – GRRM’s grit with extra magic and no feudalism, plus a bit of Dexter thrown in for good measure.

    Faith’s way: Sword of the Sorcerer is a tale set in the world of Irtanu. It tells the story of war, social injustice, and religious progression forming a maelstrom of unrest in the lives of three main characters. Otnua, a skilled career soldier on the rise, is a man troubled by the slow decline in his faith’s following. Haunted by a dark past and a darker future, he will struggle to grow into a tolerate person as his responsibilities multiply. Nagoolu, a young wizard in command of the powerful nation for which Otnua serves, comes under attack by forces seeking the fertile land of his people and condemnation for standing up for what he believes in. Libertine and short-tempered, he’s torn by the longing to protect his people and the risk of shattering global peace by entering battle himself. Vuljor, the instigator in The War of Fields, is compelled by the desire to better his citizens while lacking the means to rely on his own devices. He is forced to accept help from a church he opposes. He must keep the secret of his sexual identity to maintain his elected power, one that has led him to develop a murderous conspiracy within his capital’s walls, while juggling the hardships of conducting a war of necessity and the wants of his benefactor.

    Gah, about 70 words over. Hmm.

  • Faith, you’re awesome!! Thanks for twisting the vice on my query. As for genre??? I’m struggling between placing this as Thriller or Spec Fiction (because of the Astral Projection/Time Travel element). Where do you think it fits?

    (AND very glad you’re safe!!)

  • Unicorn

    Faith – thank you so much! I really like your version of the pitch. Let me tell you that it’s the first time I’ve EVER tried to pitch anything to anyone, so I was pretty nervous. I ditto Widdershins. I meant to include the word count, but that’s one of the things that’s going to be radically changed. It’s sitting at 160 000 now, and I was thinking about 90 000 to 100 000 words would be my goal. Thoughts on word count for this market, anyone?
    Sarah – yes, it’s YA, and that was the market I was thinking of. I’m one of those unfuriating, horse-obsessed teenagers. I’m just hoping that the story doesn’t come across as horse-obsessed.
    As for my “David pitch”, the short one… I always think of it as “A cross between Harry Potter, Narnia and Black Beauty”.
    Once again, Faith – thank you.
    Unicorn

  • Thanks, Faith – I played with this a bit, and what’s really odd is that the 1st three attempts started with “Shalen was a barmaid until …” LOL!

    It’s late, so I’ll sleep on your suggestions and try again tomorrow…

    Thanks again for this. It’s been both fun and educational.

    Oh – one question before I go: How do I convey that the story is being told by Shalen?

  • Been lurking for a while 🙂

    I’m having trouble shortening this and keeping the right tone.

    Medical interns aren’t suppose to turn people into vampires, tie them to tables or feed them plasma mixed with Tang. In Walking On Sunshine – a 1980’s urban fantasy – resident Dr. Alex Williams finds a young woman bleeding to death in his shower and saves her the only way he can. Hannah isn’t exactly happy to be alive and shows her gratitude by breaking his leg. As a newly turned vampire, Hannah manages to draw the attention of The Circle— a group of vampire enforcers Alex is all too familiar with— and puts them in conflict with a family of rogue vampires. Alex’s pasts and Hannah’s unusual family make normal life impossible for the unlikely pair as they get pulled into the superhuman politics Alex thought he’d escaped.

  • and of course I’ve hit submit too soon and made a factual error. Medical resident, not intern. /facepalm

  • Faith,

    Gack! Sorry I’m late to the party.

    Hm. I *did* craft a log line, based on A.J.’s article on High Concept Stories in the MW book. “A princess who escaped a murder attempt as a child and is thought dead must choose between the quiet life she’s crafted and the country that needs her.”

    Here’s my attempt at a back cover blurb for what I believe is YA Fantasy:

    In Nem, landmaidens are healers, and being a landmaiden is what seventeen-year-old Janni wants more than anything else. But in order to prove her worth she must travel the land, helping people in need—and that means risking her biggest secret. Twelve years ago, she was the princess and only heir to the throne, until her uncle tried to kill her. Everyone thinks she’s dead, and that’s how she wants to keep it. When she crosses paths with a fugitive nobleman seeking to end her uncle’s unlawful reign, she must choose between the quiet life she’s crafted and the country that needs her.

    (p.s. My first swordfighting class was *much* fun, and my writer’s brain was going off like wildfire, taking many notes. 🙂 )

  • Mikaela

    Thank you, Faith. Tbis exercise was fun! 🙂

  • mudepoz

    *Erk. What time is it? Is school closed? No? Damn.*

    Let’s see. I wish someone would make a flow chart to try to pigeonhole the different genres and subgenres. Something like Fic/nonfic. If fic—> blah blah—> Then Steam powered Yes No Then…
    Obviously I am NOT the one to devise such a chart.

    I would have to admit to writing. I would have to admit I need to read more of MW.

    When the Earth’s guardians get too involved in battling one enemy they lose the balance they were charged to maintain. It takes a confused fourteen year old girl and her shapeshifting familiar to figure out how to make the Earth whole again.

    It sounds a bit like a kid’s cartoon show, not *YA maybe UF*.

    It’s really hard to make this interesting which leads me to believe my life IS more interesting than what I write. Or there are just too many scattered threads so I haven’t been able to identify the central one.

  • HI AJP — and for the ones who asked, no. No one is too late. I’ll reply to posts for the next week.

    AJP said, yout market nitch blurb (the short one of David’s) is still a little wonky. Maybe to punch it up a bit: Sword of the Sorcerer is dark epic fantasy, with GRRM’s grit, more magic, no feudalism, and visit by Dexter.
    Or even:
    Sword of the Sorcerer is dark epic fantasy–the love child of GRRM and Dexter, with more grit, more magic, and no feudalism.

    Faith’s way is the longer version of the pitch, used for reasons different from pinpointing the market nitch. I have played with a bit, but you haven’t told me how the three MCs come together to make a story. Maybe take what I did and change the fake stuff I added at the bottom. With such an involved storyline, yoy are better using this longer blurb in a written query, and just using the shorter nitch pitch in a verbal situation:
    Sword of the Sorcerer follows three characters through a tale of war and social and religious change. Haunted by a dark past and a darker future, Otnua is a skilled career soldier, troubled by the slow decline in his faith’s following. Nagoolu is a young wizard in command of a nation, libertine and short-tempered, he’s torn between protecting his own people and the risk of shattering global peace by entering battle himself. Vuljor, the instigator, is a man hiding his sexual identity, forced to accept help from a church he opposes, develop a murderous conspiracy within his capital’s walls, and conduct a war of necessity. Together, they enter the fray between nations and bring war to a world. (Or something. Just a closing line.)

  • Survival, why not go with both? A spec fiction thriller sounds great to me!

    Unicorn: I am still horse-obsessed and there is nothign wrong with it. Nothing (including rivers) makes me happier than the smell of a well-kept barn filled with horses! I’d plan on 90 000 words for YA, which is what it sounds like. Or maybe even younge, 10 to 14 yr old. And I love your nitch pitch: A cross between Harry Potter, Narnia and Black Beauty.
    Yeah!

    Lyn, you did convey that already, when you opend with the name Shalen. I think you are over-guessing yourself, and can actually go with your gut. You seem to have good instincts.

  • tiffany

    Hi everyone! Sorry I missed this yesterday:) I am the writer who doesn’t really know what to label what I write. Except that it is mine:)
    So here is my blurb-in-progress:
    Julia Richmond is a London society wife with a dangerous secret- she is a witch. She must confront her hated past and risk her future when she travels home to the Caribbean to defeat a demon destroying her family.

    Any and all insight, critiques, etc are welcome. THanks!!

  • Young_Writer

    Thank you for the tips, Faith. Well, here goes my pitch,
    Miranda Near is a twelve year old girl with a mother who left them for another man. But when she suddenly finds herself in an alternate realm–Courtsworth– she realizes that her mother died saving the country’s sorcery and battle academy. Now she must take her mother’s place. She must defeat the thieves trying to take over the academy and castle, learn how to use magic, and decide who she if can can really trust the mysterious boy she meets in the woods. But can she learn in time to save Courtsworth?

  • LScribeHarris

    Wow, this is a really generous offer! That said…I have two pitches for the same book. The really short, and the really long. And I can’t seem to get a happy medium

    The short one is horrendous, so I won’t inflict it on you. Instead, I’d love to know how you would shorten my wordy blurb of verbosity and longness.

    HELLHOUND

    College Junior Helena Martin hates computers, cars, and television, but the most unusual thing about her is not her aversion to technology—she’s a Hellhound.

    In the year 300, powerful clerics created the Hellhounds—shape-shifting protectors of the gate between Earth and the demon-realm. But the secrets of magic, including the power to command the Hellhounds, fell into the hands of a power-hungry cleric known as Gwydhain, who stole the book of magical teachings, tore open the gates to the demon realm, and turned the hounds on the very people they’d sworn to protect.

    1700 years later, the Hellhounds stole it back.

    Now Helena, the first Hellhound in 1000 years with the ability to use magic, is in charge of protecting it. The book, tainted with dark magic, makes her feel seasick even on solid ground, which gets in the way of studying for midterms and, even worse, makes it hard to act normal around her geeky-hot RA, Jaesung. But the book causes even bigger problems when her pack begins to disappear, and Helena realizes that Gwydhain, the immortal traitor and master of the demons, is on her tail. Now Helena must use the book to reconstruct the crumbling barrier between Earth and the demon realm, which means not only teaching herself magic, but hiding what she’s doing from even her most trusted friends, because Gwydhain, enraged at the loss of his powerful Hellhound slaves, would do anything to stop her.

  • Monique

    I’m a day late to the party and 26 words over the limit, but here goes:

    At two thousand years old, Kate is too young to remember the last Apocalypse, but most of her life she’s had prophetic dreams of the one to come. For hundreds of years she’s searched for three other immortal Varja she’s seen in dreams, believing that only together can they survive the rise of the Horsemen.

    Now Kate’s spirit hears the screams of another Varja and she races to help, not knowing if he’s one of the three she’s seeking or merely a desperate distraction. As she struggles to save him, Kate realizes the world has already begun to change and old nightmares are waking to plague humanity anew.

    Before they can forge the bond that will carry her group through the destruction of civilization and out the other side, Kate will have to overcome the disbelief of a cynical young man, the jaded wariness of an ancient one, a ruthless opponent with a taste for cruelty, unethical scientists pursuing the secret of Varja immortality… and a hungry vampire eager for an un-ending supply of Varja blood.

  • Faith, thank you so much! I see that I keep trying to include too much of the plot in my pitches. Figuring out what’s important to hook and what becomes too much is hard!

    Pea faerie, thank you for your kind words 🙂

  • Hi Grumpy.
    Okay, how about this for nitch pitch (though I admit it’s still too long) — Medical interns aren’t suppose to turn people into vampires. Dr. Alex Williams saves a young woman from bleeding to death the only way he can, but Hannah isn’t happy to be undead, and breaks his leg. Together, the unlikely pair get into family trouble, vamp politics, and danger.

    And how about this for an extended burb —
    Medical interns aren’t suppose to turn people into vampires. In Walking On Sunshine – a 1980’s urban fantasy – medical resident Alex Williams finds a young woman bleeding to death in his shower and saves her the only way he can. Hannah isn’t happy to be undead and shows her gratitude by breaking his leg. Together, the unlikely pair manage to force them into superhuman politics, attract a family of rogue vampires, and draw the attention of The Circle — a group of vampire enforcers Alex thought he’d escaped.

  • Laura, I’m glad the swordfighting class was a success. I’m still green with envy.

    About your nitch pitch (log line) I do have a thought. I think your MC is a prindess in hiding, living the life of non-royal? And the reason she must come out of hiding is … I dunno, war? If so then maybe something like:
    A young princess in hiding escaped a childhood murder attempt and is thought dead. Now she must choose between the quiet life she’s crafted and the country that needs her to defeat the warring Grabeck.

    Or:
    Janni’s uncle, the unlawful king, thinks he killed her twelve years ago. Now Janni wants to be landmaiden healer, but her royal past may not let her live in peace.

    Yes, the blurb sounds like YA Fantasy:

    Twelve years ago, Janni was the princess and only heir to the throne, until her uncle tried to kill her. Everyone in Nem thinks she’s dead, and that’s how she wants to keep it. Being a landmaiden healer is what the seventeen-year-old wants, but in order to prove her worth she must travel the land, helping people in need—and that means risking her biggest secret. When she crosses paths with a fugitive nobleman seeking to end her uncle’s unlawful and violent (or evil or something more than just unlawful) reign, she must choose between the quiet life she’s crafted and the country that needs her.

  • Mikaela, you are welcome!

    Mud, it sounds like YA. Not UF at all. Go with your gut!

    Hi Tiff. I’m not sure what era of London society we are talking about, so maybe add that in?

    Julia Richmond is a Regency London society wife and a witch in hiding. She must confront her own power, her hated past, the King’s church, and risk her future, when she travels home to the Caribbean to battle a demon intent on destroying her family.

  • Hi Young Writer. It’s too long to use as a nitch pitch, and a bit loose for a query. How about something like:

    Miranda Near is a twelve year old girl, brought up to believe that her mother left the family for another man. But when she finds herself in an alternate realm, she discovers that her mother really died saving Courtsworth’s Sorcery and Battle Academy. Now she must learn how to use magic, take her mother’s place, defeat the thieves trying to take over the academy, and find who she can can trust, all in time to save Courtsworth castle.

    And a nitch pitch, something like:
    twelve years old Miranda finds herself in an alternate realm, where she must learn how to use magic, find who she can can trust, and defeat the thieves trying to take over Courtsworth’s Sorcery and Battle Academy. It’s 90,000 words, for 10 to 14 year olds.

  • Hi LScribe. It is a bit long. (smiling)

    Query version suggestion:
    Helena Martin hates computers, cars, and television — not unusual in a Hellhound, one of the shape-shifting protectors of the gate between Earth and the demon-realm. But she is the first Hellhound able to use magic in 2000 years, and that ability gets her stuck with The Book of Teachings, a book tainted with dark magic. It makes her sick, gets in the way of studying for midterms, and makes it hard to act normal around her geeky-hot RA, Jaesung.
    Even worse, Gwydhain, the immortal demon master, is on her tail. Now Helena must use the book to reconstruct the crumbling barrier between Earth and the demon realm, which means teaching herself magic while hiding it from her most trusted friends, because Gwydhain will do anything to stop her.

    Nitch Pitch (still a little long but getting there):
    College aged Helena Martin hates computers, cars, and television — not unusual a Hellhound, a shape-shifting protector of Earth. When Gwydhain, the immortal demon master, comes after her, Helena must use The Book of Teachings to learn magic and reconstruct the barrier from the demon realm. And Gwydhain will do anything to stop her in my YA urban fantasy.

  • I’m so glad you’re answering this for a week! I didn’t have time to check in yesterday, so I’m happy I didn’t miss out. Here’s my pitch:

    Hiking the Colorado mountains is a passion Laila Anders shares with her twin brother, Erik. At least, it used to be.

    During what should have been a normal weekend backpacking trip, Laila is separated from her brother and attacked by rogue wolves looking for an easy meal. She’s rescued, only to be kidnapped by her savior, a man with a dark secret and more in common with her attackers than she could ever guess. While Laila grapples with her new reality and searches for an escape, Erik searches for the sister he knows is still alive. What they discover will test the strength of their bond and their perceptions of the world around them. ‘Pack’ is a 90,000 word character driven contemporary fantasy.

    I know I could drop the first two sentences, but I like the way they set up the second paragraph. What do you think?

  • Hi Monique.
    I’m guessing that this is a YA? I’ve tried to cut it, but it seems like a very involved plot for YA, which usually runs about 90,000 words, so I’m unsure. And it may also be a YA UF. (The vamp makes me think so.) But it’s very different, and that is good!

    Two thousand year old Kate, an immortal Varja, has prophetic dreams of the Apocalypse. For hundreds of years she’s searched for others of her kind, believing that together, they can survive the rise of the Horsemen.

    Now, as Kate struggles to save another Varja, it may already be too late to forge the bond that will carry them through the destruction of civilization. Old nightmares are waking to plague humanity anew.

    In my YA fantasy, Kate must overcome the cynicism of a young man, the jaded wariness of an ancient one, a ruthless opponent with a taste for cruelty, unethical scientists pursuing the secret of Varja immortality, and a hungry vampire eager for an un-ending supply of Varja blood.

  • Hi Megan.
    I think the first para is actually unnecessary and could be cut for brevity and rearranged to create the hook you need. I also took out the words *character driven*, because the rest of the blurb reads like action, and *character driven action* is what is selling.
    Like this:

    During a weekend backpacking trip, Laila is separated from her brother Erik, and attacked by wolves. She’s rescued, only to be kidnapped by her savior, a man with a dark secret and a lot in common with her attackers. While Laila grapples with the reality of her first werewolf change, Erik searches for the sister he knows is still alive. ‘Pack’ is a 90,000 word contemporary fantasy.

    It’s a bit too long, but your nitch pitch could be:
    Laila is attacked by wolves, then kidnapped by a man with dark secrets. In Pack’, a 90,000 word contemporary fantasy, Laila grapples with the her werewolf change, while her brother Erik searches for her through dangerous terrain (or something to show the story is also about him).

  • Faith – Awesome! Thank you.

    Out of curiosity, since the werewolf nature is revealed slowly throughout the first half of the novel, is it better in a query letter (not the elevator pitch, which I know needs to get to the point fast) to allude to the werewolves and try to hook the agent/editor on the mystery, or is it better to just come out and say it?

  • Young_Writer

    Thank you Faith, that’s great! I really appreciate the feedback. 🙂

  • Megan, always come out and say it — you have to hook them with the story. And werewolves are HOT!

    You are welcome Young Writer!

  • mudepoz

    Last try. Shoveling a greenhouse out after being plowed in with 5 foot drifts does weird things to old brains.
    Iris Acer is a 14-year-old greenwitch. An unbroken line of greenwitches has cared for the Earth since creation. The group is split when some of the greenwitches become hooked on power. The remaining greenwitches fight their own kind, managing to send them to a place beyond creation. Now called flyers, some are still strong enough to return to the Earth and steal power as psychic vampires. Iris has to learn to come to terms with her shape-shifting familiar, myths come to life, and things that are more than what they seem.

  • Razziecat

    Faith, thank you!! In regard to the names, I’ve read most of Kurtz’s books, but not for many years; though now I think perhaps Cullen Emory sounds a bit like Camber of Culdi. I may change his first name because unfortunately it is the same as the last name of a certain popular sparkly vampire, which wasn’t intentional. I suppose it is possible that Kurtz’s Deryni novels may have influenced my preferences; worth thinking about!

  • Razziecat

    Faith, thank you!! In regard to the names, I’ve read most of Kurtz’s books, but not for many years; though with that thought in mind, perhaps Cullen Emory sounds a bit like Camber of Culdi. I may change his first name anyway, because unfortunately it is the same as the last name of a certain popular sparkly vampire, which wasn’t intentional. I suppose it is possible that Kurtz’s Deryni novels may have influenced my preferences; worth thinking about!

  • Hi Mud. Good for you!
    Okay, I’m a little confused, so I played with it, and asked a lot of questions. Answer and we’ll try again. This is intriguing.

    Iris Acer is a 14-year-old greenwitch. An unbroken line of greenwitches has cared for the Earth since creation, but the group is split when some of the greenwitches become addicted to the power they weld. The greenwitch civil war sends them (question, all of them, both sides? And was Iris alive during the fight?) to a place beyond creation, and forces them into new forms. (Yes?) Now called flyers, some are strong enough to return to the Earth and steal soul power as psychic vampires. (all of them or only the bad guys?) Iris must come to terms with her shape-shifting familiar and accept myths come to life.
    (So Iris is NOT a shapeshifter or a vampire?)

  • Razzi, that’s it! Not the sparkly vamp. The Camber thing. Whew. Okay — good. I like the name Cullen, BTW. The sparkly thing, not so much…

  • Thank you, Faith. I sometimes find myself getting caught up with what Janni wants and personally deems important, so I started by trying to explain what a landmaiden was. But her real issue is wanting to keep things the way they are, until along her journey she slowly realizes how selfish that is.

    And now I’ve just answered the question I asked Stuart last Friday. Hmmm …

    Either way, it also makes sense to specifically *not* dwell on trying to explain what a landmaiden is when pitching, but I focused on what it might say if it were a back-cover blurb. When pitching or querying, I should just call her a healer. They can learn it when they read the manuscript.

  • mudepoz

    This may just win as the longest continuing thread here! Thanks Faith for putting in the extra time here. Lessons are good. Better if grokked. Wow. My spell check just accepted that as a word.
    OK.
    (question, all of them, both sides? And was Iris alive during the fight?)
    Not all the greenwitches were driven off. The ones that fought for the Earth and weren’t power addicted remained. Their brethren were an anathema to them, the greenwitches just wanted to heal and maintain balanced.
    Iris wasn’t born at the time of the fight. Her memories were.

    Yes. They are thrown into a region left from chaos. They lost their bodies but not their consciousness.

    (all of them or only the bad guys?) the strongest of the flyers are able to return to Earth to harvest more power. There are no good flyers.

    (So Iris is NOT a shapeshifter or a vampire?) Iris is neither a shapeshifter or a vampire. She’s a rather mundane teenager who understands natural laws and learns how to use them.

    This would be the real reason I am known as mud. Not the gardening or the dog paws. I am generally as clear as my name. Damn ADD

  • Laura, I agree — what a landmaiden *is* is not important. What Jannie wants is not important. What choices she is faced with are the important thinigs in your pitch.

    Mud, this is fun, and it teaches us all how to pare down our work and see it from the outside. Crafting pitches, whether query or nitch pitch, uses a different part of the brain, one closer to the part that writes non-fiction. Think about it like the info you try to get across in a dog breeding article or an orchid blurb in a catalogue.

    In your book’s case, we now are getting closer to the proper blurb. How is this:
    14-year-old Iris Acer dosen’t know she is a greenwitch, an Earth-healer. But when one of the fallen ones, called fliers becomes strong enough to cross demensions and return to Earth, she must come to terms with her shape-shifting familiar and accept ancient myths come to life, in order to fight the
    stealer of souls.

    Your nitch pitch (still a bit long) could be;
    14-year-old Iris Acer must accept her shape-shifting familiar and her own power as a greenwitch to fight the mythical fliers — the stealer of souls.

  • I read often, but rarely post. I’ve been told that putting the protagonists’ personal obstacles is a good idea, but it seems out of place. I put it in parenthesis, wondering if it should be cut entirely, or better integrated. Thanks in advance for doing this. I think it’s amazing of you.

    One line pitch:Moon Shadows is a YA urban fantasy¬—Percy Jackson meets *The Ranger’s Apprentice *still working with it. Would it be too bizarre to say Percy Jackson vs. Camp Half-Blood?

    One par: Galen Silver is a typical, high school, smart kid¬¬—or so he thought. Missing curfew one evening, he walks through a moon shadow, creating a frightening and dangerous creature of darkness, barely escaping with his life. His childhood friend and girl of his dreams, Chelsea Price, discovers his ability. Together, they uncover the secrets of his gift, make new friends, and are plunged into a hidden world—a magic underground within their community. (Galen must overcome his fear; fear of the creatures, fear of his power, and fear of his father in order to stand on his own. Chelsea must find her strength within, her purpose, and discover the meaning of her deepest feelings.) Not everything is as it seems, and learning who to trust will become a life or death decision, requiring both of them in order to survive.

  • Monique

    Faith, I can’t figure out how to reply to your respose directly, so sorry for the un-attached follow-up question.

    I posted my blurb above (Kate the Varja, the Apocalypse, a vampire) and you said it sounded like a YA book, and also possibly UF. It is urban fantasy, if I’m understanding that label correctly (our world, but with some fantastical elements, like immortals and vampires). However, it’s definitely not YA – there’s strong sexual themes and graphic violence… and yeah, the plot’s more complex than YA allows. The finished ‘script is about 140K words in length.

    So my question is this – what about the blurb made you think YA? Because I need to fix that and make it clear it’s for adults.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Monique: I thought I’d give an unsolicited response to your question about the blurb sounding YA. I think the main flag is the phrase “Kate is too young” in the first sentence, which makes it sound like her youth is important to the themes of your story. My second comment is a little more random and possibly totally off the mark: The character descriptions you give for her “obstacles” at the end sound sort of neat and compartmentalized, perhaps the way a kid or young adult might categorize people (and again “young” shows up with one of them). This is possibly just a personal tick of mine though, because, as a scientist, the phrase “unethical scientists” sounds like someone who thinks of scientists more as things than people with complex motivations. Again, possibly just a flinch reaction because I categorize myself as a scientist.

  • Monique, replying here is as direct as it gets! Your info helps a lot. And yes, Hepseba is totally right about the *too young* reference. So if I’m reading your most recent comments right, the sexual component relates to the *bond*?

    Hep’s point about unethical scientists is a good one too. Hmmm… So let’s look again, with a thought to clarify and cut length:

    In my Urban Fantasy, Kate, an immortal, has prophetic dreams of the Apocalypse. She’s searched for others of her kind, believing that, once joined in the psychic-sexual bonds of the Varja, they can help the world survive the destruction of civilization.

    To create the Varja bonds, Kate must overcome the cynicism of a young man, the jaded wariness of an ancient one, defeat a ruthless opponent, and outwit scientists pursuing the secret of Varja immortality and a hungry vampire eager for an un-ending supply of Varja blood.

    But old nightmares are waking to plague humanity anew — the rise of the Horsemen.

    It is still a little long, but I’m liking it better.

  • Subcreator

    Question: By definition, the terms epic fantasy and high fantasy are interchangeable, but I never hear anyone use the later anymore. Personally, I prefer the sound of the term high fantasy and I think the connotations of the word high suit my story better than epic. Is it still acceptable to use?

    Here’s my attempt. Story is still in the works so this is just for fun.

    Kamose-Ausare is a priest of Re. His duty is to perform the rituals that maintain order in the cosmic drama that plays out every day between god and mortal, heaven, earth and underworld and also to never, ever ask questions. When at the height of Re’s most sacred festival the unthinkable occurs and the sun becomes temporarily darkened in the midst of the day, Kamose is ordered to search the sacred writings to learn the truth about what happened. But no one, not even his closest companion, Setekhpenre, could have anticipated the horrifying actions that Kamose’s new-found knowledge would drive him to or how close Kamose will bring his people to the brink of ultimate destruction as a result. Now only the utmost sacrifice will save their world and nothing will ever be the same again.

  • Hi SubC. Though others here might disagree, I tend to think that all epic fantasy is high fantasy, but not all high fantasy is epic. One of epic writers here might shed more light here.

    As to your blurb, think you tell a bit much in some areas and bit too little in others, so perhaps tighten and cut and clarify? I guessed at some things, like the ultimate sacrifice, so correct me where I am off:

    Kamose-Ausare is a priest of the god Re. At the height of Re’s most sacred festival, the sun temporarily darkens and Kamose must search the sacred writings to learn the truth. But Kamose’s new-found knowledge drives him to do the unthinkable, and brings his people to the brink of ultimate destruction. Now it seems only the ultimate sacrifice will save their world.

  • Colette, forgive me! I didn’t see your post until now. If I missed anyone elses you guys let me know.
    Eeeek!

    One line pitch: Moon Shadows is a YA urban fantasy¬—Percy Jackson meets *The Ranger’s Apprentice* or Percy Jackson vs. Camp Half-Blood?

    I like the last one best. But that is just an opinion, and frankly you can likely go with either.

    In the one para, I am guessing at some things, and I think you could cut a bit more and it would still make sense, but like many of the former blurbs, I leave some things to keep the power of the story:

    Galen Silver is a typical high school geek until he walks through a moon shadow one night and creates a slavering, clawed creature of darkness. He barely escapes. Together with Chelsea, his childhood friend and the girl of his dreams, he uncovers the secrets of his gift and is plunged into the magic underground hidden within their community. Galen must overcome his fear of moon shadows, fear of his power, and fear of his father in order to stand on his own. Chelsea must fight for inner strength and learn her purpose. But little is as it first appears, and learning who to trust is life or death, requiring both of them to survive.

  • Just my humble interpretation on Epic vs High Fantasy:

    High Fantasy involves some level of magic/magical beings and a medieval-ish setting. Length is irrelevant.

    Epic Fantasy is more about length and/or span (GRRM writes Epic in both senses… multiple volumes and enormous scope)

    So – you could have Epic Urban Fantasy, Epic High Fantasy, Epic Steampunk, etc. A single stand-alone book, such as the one I blurbed above, whose characters and events aren’t motivated by national, cultural, or world level influences might be considered High Fantasy, but it definitely isn’t ‘epic.’

  • Did I make it under the wire?
    Thank you so much for providing this opportunity. I’ve been working on this for awhile, but I feel as though I am leaving so much out! Not to mention straightening out the gender pronouns… should I stick with god, which people are more familiar with, or use godel which is the hermaphrodite term of the world? Maybe I should just leave it out altogether… Oh, and the title is still just the working title, so you can ignore that. LOL
    Here it goes:

    Notes on Mud is a high fantasy story about Rie, a young healer in training who is content with a life of study and service. Suddenly he is chosen by the gods to find the Tinasin, the cursed immortal who was the lover and betrayer Ana, godel of the dimales. He refuses. Soon after, the temple is attacked and Rie finds himself sold as a slave to a culture far different from his own. Not only must he find a way to escape, he must deal with new-found abilities and determine whether he is merely a pawn in the gods’ hands, or something more.

  • Sarah

    HI Faith. If you’re still doing this, and if we haven’t worn out our turns, can I post the blurb for Emily (PeaFaerie) and my co-written WIP?

    It’s no concern of Deor’s that the King of the Winter Court is dying for lack of an heir. She’s a human raised changeling, not a faerie. All she wants is time to settle into her new job as Professor of Human Studies and maybe a date with the cute goblin in her office. But when the Civil Guard starts harassing changelings at the same time someone breaks into her human mother’s house, Deor knows it’s not a coincidence. It will take all her talents, human and faerie, to find out why and save her own life, as well as the King’s. Knychtspelle is a 90,000 word complete urban fantasy with some romance.

  • High Vs. Epic Fantasy — as the person in this group who has been writing in this genre the longest, let me use comment number 100 in this thread (!) to give my opinion on the definitions. In my mind, Epic and High fantasy are essentially interchangeable terms, both of them meaning fantasy set in an alternate world with a strong magical component. To my mind, despite the obvious inferences one could draw, length of the work is really not a factor (although it is true that epic/high fantasies tend to be extended story arcs that stretch over several volumes). Epic/High fantasy is often distinguished from Sword and Sorcery, which is more geared toward swashbuckling or adventure-laden stories. S&S tends to be more in the true serial vein — several stories in a series, but each book stands alone as its own tale. So Tolkien would be epic/high fantasy; so would George R.R. Martin, much of Guy Kay’s early work, my own books, John Marco, Kate Elliott, and others. Conan the Barbarian would be sword and sorcery. I’m blocking on other examples of S&S. But I hope that’s helpful.

  • Lyn and David, it’s clear as … uh … mud. 🙂

    Hi JRsoer. Yep — plenty of time, I’ll reply to these until
    Feb 8 at Midnight EST. Then I’ll quit and be lazy for a bit!

    I am having a bit of trouble (lack of knowledge again) and I am guessing at a few things. If I’m wrong, correct them and I’ll try again.

    Rie is a young healer, chosen by the gods to find a cursed immortal who betrayed them. He refuses. The temple is attacked and Rie is sold as a slave. He must find a way to escape, deal with new-found magical abilities, and discover if he is a pawn in the gods’ hands or something more.
    Notes on Mud is a high fantasy.

    Nitch Pitch — Rie is a young healer, who the gods’ quest and is sold as a slave. He must escape and learn both magic and his destiny. Notes on Mud is a high fantasy.

  • Sarah, (and anyone else) post away!

    A human raised changeling, Deor is unconcerend about political events in the Winter Court of faerie, settling in as Professor of Human Studies and dating a cute goblin in her office. But when the Civil Guard starts harassing changelings and her human mother’s house is burgled,it takes all Deor’s talents, human and faerie, to find out why, save her own life, and the King’s. Knychtspelle is a 90,000 word complete urban fantasy with romantic elements.

    Nitch Pitch: (still too long…sigh…)
    A human raised changeling, Deor is forced to use her human and fae talents to save her own life, the Fae King’s life, and solve political problems in the Winter Court of faerie. Knychtspelle is a 90,000 word complete urban fantasy with romantic elements.

  • Faith: Very succinct. Actaully, my story sounds kinda boring! LOL
    Thank you though. You pretty much got it nailed. Definately helps to have fresh eyes.
    Although I think I will leave out ‘magical’. It’s more like a expansion on what he already can do. He has the ability to See internal body functions, electrical potential, and the like. Not unheard of amongst healers. Only he discovers that he can suddenly manipulate what he sees; something hardly ever heard of in this age of the world. Maybe I could use “…new and unpredictable abilities…” instead.

  • JR — I LIKE new and unpredictable.
    I don’t hear/see/read it as boring, but rather as if an agent might ask, “What dangers does he face?” And be looking to hear some new ones.
    (I hit go and didn’t mean to so this is an edit)

  • I am still willing to do some more of these, or redo if I misunderstood something, like a YA when it’s UF or I missed the meaning totally. My last reply to this post will be on Tuesday the 8th at midnight, EST. While it has been fun, I will ask the webmage to close comments then, ‘cuz I’m getting preeeetty burned out! (laughing)
    So bring ’em on for 2 more days.

  • Monique

    Faith (& Hepseba) –

    Just wanted to say thanks for the help. You’ve certainly given me a lot to think about, and I appreciate the comments.