How I Chose My Pitch to Publication Writers

Pitch to Publication (#p2p16) opens up to submissions on March 5! There’s still time to enter, and I know some of you planning on entering might be worried about your pitches. Hopefully this will help you hook editors (or agents)! This year, MS Editors represent 20% of the participating editors in the contest. See the genres we will be accepting at the bottom of each of our interviews: Me, Elizabeth, and Kyra

I picked two writers last year. The narrowing-down process was brutal, one I tweeted about a couple times.

I started with 98 queries (two of the 100 were repeat submissions), and eliminated about 2/3rds on the first pass, leaving me with 33 maybes and probablys, which is very high compared to other editors’ stats. Then I narrowed those down to 10. Then I narrowed down my favorite choices by age category for my top three (MG, YA, and NA/Adult). Part of narrowing down included saying a sad “no” to two entries I didn’t think I’d be able to improve on. I encouraged these writers to query right then.

Anyway, let’s get back to my two final picks.

MG Pick

Some people were wondering about how to write the hook part of the P2P submission. This one caught my attention right away:

Oscar dreads a lot of things: oil-based shampoos, hungry giraffes, and going to school on Arbor Day. Life’s tough for a seventh grader with leaves sprouting from his head. It doesn’t help when, Matty, a boy no one seems to know shows up and declares Oscar is a wood troll. But then Matty also promises he can fix Oscar’s little hair condition – in return for a favor.

Hoping to never run from nest-building squirrels again, Oscar […]

Doesn’t that have a great voice? Look at those word choices and specific, characterizing details! Some people think it’s harder to get a solid voice in third-person, which is what all queries need to be written in. This is exactly how to do it.

Not only did this hook paragraph have solid voice, but it also introduced the character’s desire and the story’s inciting incident.

Now, I wasn’t sure if I wanted a portal fantasy, so I initially marked this as a maybe (see how subjective slush reading is?), but when I read the pages, I laughed and got literal goosebumps. If a book can create that much of a response in me in the first chapter, I’m going to want to read more. Turns out, an agent felt the same way.

YA Pick

This one had a solid query, and I liked the concept a lot: a YA romance with Middle Eastern Pirates? Color me intrigued!

But what really hooked me was her first page—which I tend to read first—and how she started right in the middle of things:

Make it stop. I cringed, my head throbbing from the off-key voice. It was a song that most people would sacrifice their first-born to never have to hear. Most that heard it never lived to hear it twice. Because of all the dangers of the sea…

…Nothing was worse than pirates.

As I read on, the sensory details and lush settings drew me in further, and the chemistry between the two leads dragged me right under.

Yes, you read that right. I look at the first five pages before I look at the query. The Pitch to Publication submission includes personal-ish questions so editors can get to know you better. Since I assume everyone submitting to me is totally awesome, I usually skip this part until I’ve made my choices, otherwise the sting of sending rejections is too great. But I do enjoy reading those, and what you say can determine if I end up passing (red flags=run!) or if I follow you on Twitter so we can be friends and so I can cheer you on (we have things in common).

Hooking the Reader

Part of Pitch to Publication is working together to make the best book possible. Their pitches and queries don’t look exactly the same today as they did then. But hopefully this gives you a good idea of what can hook me:

  • Specific details that set the scene or characterize
  • Word choice (this and the previous are what make your “voice“)
  • Active, not passive characters
  • A cool concept or a pitch that makes me HAVE to know what happens next.

Which of these elements does your query or first five pages have? Are there any elements you don’t have but could work in?

5 thoughts on “How I Chose My Pitch to Publication Writers

  1. Lara says:

    Reblogged this on MS Editors and commented:

    ‘Tis the season for pitching contests! Do your pitch, query letter, and first pages have what it takes to hook a reader or agent? Get an insider look at what it takes to win Pitch to Publication, which opens THIS WEEKEND: March 5! Lara, Elizabeth, and Kyra are participating this year, which means 20% of the contest picks will get to work with MS Editors!

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