Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pitch for The Stump of the Terebinth Tree

I've been working on crafting the perfect query letter for about two months now and I finally wrote a pitch that I think tells the story nicely. I even used this pitch to enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and it got me through the first round. But even though I'm rather happy with my little pitch, I know that it can always be improved. I've been fiddling with it for a few weeks, but I still have the nagging suspicion that I'm missing something. I'm not sure if that's just writer's insecurity or if there are things that need tweaking. I've been going back and forth on this for a while, and it's starting to drive me insane.

This post is pretty much a cry for help. If you read my pitch over and give me honest feedback, I will be eternally grateful. Don't worry about hurting my feelings. You can't possibly tell me anything negative about my writing that I haven't already told myself. =) So please, read it over. It's only 270 words long:

A mighty terebinth tree once grew in Thane, planted in honor of Masiah, the creator of all things. But when darkness seeps into Thane in the form of Elgar, a tyrannical warrior, the tree is cut down to a stump, disgracing Thane’s faith and causing many to lose hope.

Wanderer, a desert elf of seventeen, looks after his widowed mother and ill brother, watching helplessly as Elgar slowly enslaves Thane. But with the news of an impending attack upon his homeland, Wanderer realizes that Masiah is urging him into action. Scraping together a small band of outsiders, he sets out with a half-blooded she-elf and two siblings with pasts darker than the night sky. Their purpose – assassinate Elgar, no matter what the cost.

But when they discover that Lucien, father of evil and possessor of Elgar, plans to rule both the bodies and souls of all Thaneians, these four insurgents begin to understand that the freedom of their people will cost far more than they first reckoned.

As lives are lost and scars are formed, Wanderer wrestles with the desire to lose himself in the chaos. How can Masiah allow His people to suffer such hate and destruction? With this single question seared into his mind, he fights on, forced to rely on blind faith and friendship in order to finish his mission with both his life and his sanity intact.


Through these trials, Wanderer uncovers the prophecy of the ancient terebinth tree and catches a glimpse of what so many have been too blind to see – the old terebinth stump with a small green bud – the hope of deliverance. 

Have any ideas as to how to improve it? PLEASE leave me a comment. 

13 comments:

  1. Let me start by saying that this is a really great pitch, and my suggestions/nitpicks are only minor. I've never critiqued anyone's writing before, so I hope you'll forgive me (and tell me) if any of my suggestions are too bold. I'm always happy to be corrected. Also, I don't know even half as much about writing as you do, so please take all of this with a grain of salt. With that said, onward we go:

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    1) In the first paragraph, I find myself wanting to know a little bit more about Thane. I think that even just a few words could go a long way.

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    2) In the first sentence of the first paragraph, we find out that a mighty terebinth tree *once grew*. When the verb tense switches to present in the next sentence, it makes me feel like the tree may no longer be alive (or no longer exist), but then we find out that it's being cut down (presumably while still alive).

    To further explain what I mean, here's an example of a sentence which I think fixes the issue I'm having (though I'm not suggesting it as a worthy replacement): "In honor of Masiah, the creator of all things, a seed was planted in Thane, a seed which grew into a mighty terebinth tree."

    With this sentence, it would be reasonable to believe that the tree could still be alive (and in existence) when the verb tense changes to present. Essentially, it's the "once" that gives me trouble.

    Also, I should mention that the switch from past to present tense, just by itself, feels a little jarring to me. You might consider replacing "seeps" with something like "begins to seep."

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    3) The transition from the first to the second paragraph isn't quite as smooth as I'd like. Also, I'd suggest that you eliminate "watching" in favor of "watches."

    Here's an example that illustrates how I might alleviate these two issues: "With a widowed mother and an ill brother to look after, Wanderer, a desert elf of seventeen, watches helplessly as Elgar slowly enslaves Thane. But amid [the] news..."

    Again, this is only an example. I'm not trying to impose.

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    4) At the end of the second paragraph, perhaps you could mention the race (or some other short descriptor(s)) of the two siblings, unless the mystery is intentional.

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    5) At the end of the second paragraph, you mention that the four insurgents have no concern for the cost of their purpose, but then in the next paragraph, they *are* concerned. This threw me off a bit, but it may not be a big deal. In fact, this might be the most "nitpicky" of all my nitpicks.

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    The last two paragraphs, I think they're great just as they are. If you were to focus on only one paragraph, I'd probably suggest that it be the first one.

    Again, I really like what you have here, and you've very much piqued my interest in your novel. :-)

    (And in case you're wondering, I'm the same Dane from Twitter).

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    1. Thank you so much! You weren't nitpicking. Everything you said was very insightful. I really appreciate that you took the time to leave such a helpful comment. Time for some editing...

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  2. You're very welcome! I can imagine how much your novel means to you, and I'm thankful that I can be of some service. :-)

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  3. My wife found your blog and liked it and then came across this post and thought that I could offer some advice. I'm not an expert at queries, but I have written and re-written (and re-written) several. I feel like the first paragraph is backstory and doesn't necessarily need to be in the query. I think you could start with the second paragraph. I think the first thing most agents/publishers want to see is the main character. Also, maybe cut out the last paragraph... I don't think you need to give away the ending (even if it's an emotional ending) in the query. Hold that for the synopsis if requested. Make them want to know how it ends.

    "finish his mission with both his life and his sanity intact." This is stronger.

    If you feel like you need the backstory in the query, try to weave it through the description of the main plot.

    To some extent, imagine what you would read on a book jacket.

    Anyway, it sounds like an interesting story, good luck in your pursuit of publication! Once again, I'm not an expert, just wanted to give you some feedback. I know how that can be encouraging.

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    1. Thank you so much, Scott! I really appreciate it. I was wondering if I gave too much away in the last paragraph, so I'm glad to have a second opinion on that. It probably would be a lot better if I cut it short.
      I'm so glad to hear that your wife liked my blog. It's very encouraging! Again, thank you so much for taking the time to help me out!

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  4. I don't have anything to say that hasn't already been said, but I really hope you get published! This pitch has left me REALLY wanting to read your book. :)

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    1. Thank you so much for the encouragement, Marci! It's so nice to know that people find my story ideas interesting. =)

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  5. Scott's advice was spot on, and he may not be an expert but I kind of am ;) I came across your blog via Pinterest--your platform-building is working!--and I'd love to help. Not sure where you are at the moment in your publishing journey, but if the traditional route doesn't work I know a lot about self-publishing. Six of my indie authors (I'm a freelance editor) are best-sellers...and don't worry, I'm not trying to score new clients. I stay booked solid but I like helping writers (not "aspiring authors" ;), and though I'm not that familiar with the Christian YA genre, I do love YA and I am a Christian. So message me if you ever want to chat about self-pubbing...it really is a great way to get your story (stories?) out there to the world. Because that's what it's all about, right?

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  6. Rats, my email address would probably be helpful, huh?
    S.G. Thomas
    thomastravelers@gmail.com

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    1. Wow! Thank you so much. I'm saving your email and will definitely get in touch when I'm ready to take that jump. I've been hearing a lot of great things about self-publishing and have even self published my own short story (Skies of Dripping Gold). It was a cool experience and I'm interested in doing it again, so it's nice to know that I have somebody to give me pointers. I really appreciate it!

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  7. Your story looks to be a possible great story, and I think it will do very well as a ya. There is just one thing I would like to point out, hoping it won't offend you in the process. I noticed that the name Masiah, aka Messiah, is the name you put down for God. Now there's nothing exactly wrong with this name, but there is a slight problem. If you are planning to have your novel published by a non Christian publisher, then there is a chance many readers who read this will recognize its real meaning, and so decide not to read it.The same is for the name Lucien, which I have to admit does sound a little cheesy.Now, one thing you can do to replace these names, is try something I do using Google Translate: Find a name or word related to that name meaning, and translate it into another language. Then, if the translation looks a little strange, add or take out a letter if needed. So that's it really. I hope this helps you.

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    1. Thanks for the insightful comment! I did purposely decided to name the God Masiah so that people would directly link it to Christianity. I don't want to trick people into reading Christian fiction. They should know what they're getting. At least that was my thought. =) I agree that it could pose problems as far as getting published and reaching certain audiences, but I think I can do it. Maybe. =)
      And thanks for weighing in on Lucien's name. I've been thinking of changing it and you just gave me the deciding vote. Off to Google Translate. I love that tool. =)
      I really appreciate your thoughts! Very helpful.

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    2. That's okay. I think you'll be great, anyhow.
      Sincerely, New to Writing.

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