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The Hedge Witch Pitch

Sunday, 3 October 2010

When I mentioned my idea of using a fictional blog to promote Hedge Witch the other day, I received an amazing amount of invaluable advice. Many thanks to all who commented. That response alone was enough to convince me, once again, of the value of this blogging malarkey.

It soon became clear that :

  1. The fictionalised blog would be a good way to promote a book to readers but not to hard-headed agents/publishers.
  2.  It therefore wouldn't be worth doing until such time as the book is set to be published.

So, I think that idea is on the back-burner for now, although there's no harm in doing groundwork and preliminary planning ...

Another comment that really stuck in my mind, however, was from Angela Ackerman, who wondered whether my query pitch was good enough if I wasn't getting that many requests for a full ms from agents. I looked at my query again and decided that, yup, it probably could be improved. I have to admit this is something I've struggled to come to terms with in the past. You write what you think is a great book - that should be enough shouldn't it? Well, no, because, as I'm sure you're all well aware, you also have to pitch the thing to the right agent at the right time in the right way. Maybe the world shouldn't work like this, but work this way it does. Get used to it, Simon.

So I've been working on my query "elevator" pitch for the book. Here's the latest version. I plan to send it to somewhere like Evil Editor to get feedback on it, but I'd be real grateful if anyone had any observations right now. Here's what I've come up with :

Cait Weerd's life is going nowhere. She's struggling at school, her father is gone and her mother has given up. And she has absolutely no idea she's being tracked down by the undain : ghoulish, superhuman creatures of necromancy that feed off the spirit of the living. She doesn't know the undain need her blood to survive. She doesn't even know she's a witch, descended from a long line of witches. Cait Weerd doesn't know a lot, really, but all that's about to change.

Across the aether, meanwhile, in the misty realm of Andar, another young witch lies close to death. Fer has been almost killed in a confrontation with an undain lord that has flown across the vast and wide river An. It is the vanguard of a massing army. For the first time, incredibly, the An is set to freeze over. The peaceful land of Andar will be destroyed. Once she is awake, Fer is persuaded by Hellen Meggenwar, eldest witch of Andar, to cross to our own world to retrieve a book of necromancy hidden here many years ago. The book contains the secret of defeating the undain. Fer is helped by several companions, including Johnny Electric, a refugee rock musician from our world, and an archaeon, an illustrated-manuscript dragon that inhabits books and hates being interrupted all the damn time.

Back in our world, the book of necromancy ends up with Cait. The undain and their human servants want that as much as they want her. The fate of both worlds is at stake. Just what she needs. Along with definitely-not-a-boyfriend Danny, Cait has to decide what the hell to do. Run away, fight or just hope it all goes away. It's only then that she starts to learn who she really is and what the undain have been doing in our world all this time ...

What do you think? Does it work for you? Too much information? Too little? Confusing? Boring? Any comments gratefully received.


  1. It sounds a wonderful book. I think the query could be tightened up a bit - Evil Editor is a good idea, followed up by Phoenix if necessary.

    These are just my initial reactions (after a glass or so of wine!) I'm not sure we need to know about Cait going nowhere and all the things she doesn't know.

    What I'd like to know is, how does Cait find the book? How does she know what it is? What happens when she meets Fer? What are her choices, and what's bad about each of them?

    I think you could lose some other details too, although I really like the archaeon so I think you'd better keep him!

    I hope someone else can be more helpful. Judging from your other writing that I've read, I'd guess this is a brilliant book.

  2. I'm with fairyhedgehog, it just needs a little tightening but you certainly pulled me into a very compelling story. I would definitely like to know more just from this!!

  3. Hi! Oh you brave soul!! So here is what I think (LOL!). Just remember that I know nuffink!!! :-)

    I say the first and third paras are spot on - they're edgy, they're contemporary, I can certainly relate to Cait Weerd's (wonderful name!) confusion and isolation.

    I would sneak in how old she is maybe?

    The second para for me was too much info. It dragged the fab first and third paras and kept them way apart. It sort of shifted POVs. :-) It felt like a different book.

    I hope the above makes sense. GOOD LUCK!!!!!!
    Take care

  4. Simon, Hedge Witch sounds really interesting and quirky and rich. I especially want to know more about the archaeon and Johnny Electric -- what fab sounding sidekicks! Everything about the story sounds good to me.

    Like the others, I think the pitch could be shorter and sharper, and much more narrowly focussed. I agree with Old Kitty that the second paragraph gives too much detail. All an agent needs to know is that Andar is in danger and that Cait holds the key to its survival, as well as the secrets of her own identity. It's good to know about the Undain army and the river An (your names, as ever, are superb), but the details of how Fer has been so sorely hurt probably don't belong in a pitch unless they are key to the story.

    I also have a feeling that the colon in line one is a mystery killer, turning the undain from something dark and terrible that an agent should want to know more about into something with a label pinned on it. They sound proper creepy tp me, so why not start to the terror right here in the pitch?

    Anyway, hope this helps.

  5. Hi Simon. I agree with Old Kitty.
    Overall, you have a great start here. The first paragraph was tight, to the point and infused with great voice. I loved the last line "...but all that's about to change." You had me on the edge of my seat, but then the focus shifted away from Cait.

    The second paragraph I felt was a bit too detail oriented and you began to lose me (course that could be me). Can you describe Fer's role in a similar voice? What is her role in relation to Cait? Maybe cut and tighten the part about the massing army.

    Third paragraph...great voice is back. Like it a lot, though I think it can be tightened too.

    Many agents suggest that queries focus main focus on 1 or 2 characters. Perhaps leaving out mention of Danny and Johnny Electric (though they both sound cool!)

    I don't have a lot of experience in critiquing but I hope this helps. Sights such as Evil Editor, Nathan Bransford's query critique thread in the forums, and others can really give invaluable advice.

    Good luck! I'm intrigued by your story!

  6. Simon, I can't remember if this is for teenagers/young adults or the adult market?

  7. Hi Simon, you're really brave to open yourself up to critique on this. I really like the sound of this query so I'm going to be as blunt as I can in the hope of being helpful, but please note I have no expertise in the area and you can throw out everything I say if you feel it isn't right :)

    I'm afraid I got completely lost in the paragraph about Fer. The tone of the first paragraph is very different to the tone of the second. The first one got me thinking 'OK, urban fantasy, possibly YA, focus on a single protagonist with an interesting-sounding family - cool' and then suddenly I find it's intersecting with what sounds like seriously high-fantasy and I feel like two very different books have been spliced together, although I'm sure the book itself doesn't read like that.

    Also I feel there's too much information in the second paragraph. I don't need the place names, especially given that I don't even know what country Cait lives in.

    I'm also not sure if Fer and her companions (who sound great!) are adversaries of Cait's or allies.

    I would minimise Fer's role in the query, as I think it complicates the query too much, and maybe say something like this (leaving the first paragraph as it is):

    When Cait finds herself in possession of a book of necromancy from another world, she's suddenly in even more danger - the undain and their human servants are desperate to know what it contains. A band of travellers from the other world, led by another young witch whose world is dying, need to read the book to defeat the undain. And Cait, along with her definitely-not-a-boyfriend Danny, has a choice - she can run away, and risk destroying worlds, or she can stay and fight. . .

    Disclaimer: I regular talk crap. This could be one of those times. This is the opinion of one reader only who doesn't read extensively in your genre. And she hopes no offence was taken because it sounds like a really good book!

  8. Hi Simon,

    This sounds like a great book, I hope to buy it someday! I do have some thoughts on refining the query though.

    I feel the change of tone between the first and second paragraph is very abrupt. Paragraph one reads like a query for an urban fantasy, maybe YA, and then suddenly I'm rading a query for very high fantasy. I'm also not sure if Fer et al are adversaries or allies of Cait's.

    I would keep the focus totally on Cait and only mention Fer insofar as her role affects Cait. And I would lose every place name and character name except Cait, Danny and possibly Fer.

  9. fairyhedgehog,

    Many thanks for the thoughts and suggestions. I hadn't come across Phoenix before.

    It does sound like I'm focusing on the wrong information : too much on Fer, not enough in Cait. That's invaluable feedback, thanks - I have some thinking to do!

  10. Jen,

    Thanks for that - that's very encouraging to know!

  11. Old Kitty,

    Brave? Foolish? Who can say? Whichever, I don't for a moment believe you know nuffink.

    I do take your point about para 2. I think I'm making the mistake of trying to summarise the book rather than create a hook for it. I think I'll see what I can leave out and concentrate on Cait a bit more.

    Many, many thanks - invaluable advice.

  12. Thomas,

    Many thanks for your thoughts and insights. There's certainly a consensus emerging here! "shorter and sharper, and much more narrowly focussed" shall be my watchwords!

    Interesting what you say about my explanation of the undain : I shall give that some thought.

    Thanks once again - very, very useful stuff.

  13. Suzie,

    Many thanks for your comments, which are absolutely invaluable. I clearly have to do some more work on the Fer stuff. I shall try to stay focused more on Cait. Gosh, this is tricky!

  14. Sue,

    Well, you know, both. Either. Do I have to decide? Let's say YA (through gritted teeth).

  15. Ellen,

    I really appreciate your honesty - please be as blunt as you like!

    Your comments make a great deal of sense to me : jumping off into the Andar story like that is clearly bewildering and works against me.

    Many, many thanks for your suggestions - I have some serious editing to do on my query!

  16. I read somewhere that the only point of a query letter is to get an agent to request pages. It's so hard to leave out bits that matter, but that confuse the issue!

    By the way, I expect Query Shark is up there with Evil Editor on your list of possible places to try out your query?

    Oh, and would it work to come at it from the other direction? What I mean is instead of distilling your book into three paragraphs, could you Tweet the main point of your book, then gradually add bits in till you get to three paras? You're great at writing pithy tweets.

  17. fairyhedgehog,

    Ah, yes, Query Shark would make a lot of sense too, thanks. I do like your idea of writing this from the ground up - in fact I think I'll give that a try now ...

  18. I didn't know Cait's surname was Weerd. An agent would instantly think it was a children's book and possibly a comedy. I think it's too silly (and a bit patronising) for anyone older.

  19. Sue,

    Noted! I'm sure there were those that said the same about "Bilbo Baggins" ...

  20. Bilbo was a hobbit and Cait is human. I'd certainly leave her surname out of your synopsis.

  21. Sue,

    Fair point. Thanks for the advice, I appreciate it.

  22. I agree with most of what's already been said, but in particular: the query doesn't have to include a detailed synopsis, so you could cut some of what's making the second paragraph seem heavy and still have a great witch pitch!

  23. Milo,

    Thanks for that - that's pretty much the approach I'm working on now. I just need to decide which witch pitch is best ...

  24. I see you've been given a lot of advice so I will give you the short.

    I love the first paragraph. The rest feels more like a synopsis than a query.

    You're only supposed to mention Protagonist, Antagonist and maybe one other character.

    I believe in a query you need to start with a short bio of yourself.

    If you can grab the agent/editors attention, they will hop over to your blog. So make each post count.

    Hope that helps.
    Everyone is invited to my blog Halloween party.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  25. N. R.

    Thanks for the invaluable advice. The next version of my query should be much better! It's interesting what you say about starting with a bio - I must admit I did always do that but then found that most people seemed to prefer to leap straight into the action. So that's what I do. It does seem rather abrupt though ...


I'd love to know what you think.