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Share your elevator pitch!

Let’s face it – with COVID and social distancing, you’re unlikely to be riding in an elevator with a publisher any time soon. But short and exciting pitches are important things to have in your artillery, whether it’s to explain to your Aunt Mildred why you’re always working all the time, or to capture the attention of a literary agent in your query letter.  

There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for writing a pitch. What agents want to see, is a short description of your book that explains why they should be excited to read it. For some books, this could be done in just a few words. For example, the Alex Rider Series is: “A young James Bond”. Four words, and we have a pretty good idea what these books are going to look like, and how they might have an exciting audience ready-and-waiting.  

Other books might have a harder time condensing to so few words – and for agents – that's usually fine. You want to ensure you’re not going over two short paragraphs if you can, and you focus only on the things that are most important/exciting about your idea. If you’re not sure what this is – think about what made you so excited to write it in the first place. Maybe it was character, or theme, or place? And if you’re still not sure – ask your Aunt Mildred to read it instead and kindly tell you what your book is about. Sometimes, a more distanced view can offer us much-needed clarity on this stuff! 

So – what does the pitch in your query letter look like? Are you having trouble getting to the bottom of what makes your idea exciting? Share below for some peer feedback.


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Replies (137)
  • Deaf single mother becomes Scottish Princess

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    • Sorry Libby just noticed you asked me questions and I didn't respond - I wasn't being rude I just hadn't spotted it. It's contemporary - set in the very near future where Scotland has become independent and have decided to re-establish a Scottish monarchy.

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      • No worries, Danny. It's hard to find replies with the way they're set out on these threads. Your story sounds a great idea. Not just the MC but the return of a monarchy. Lots of interesting possibilities there. Good luck with it.

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        • Thanks Libby D x

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        • Fleeing her traditional Catholic upbringing, a lesbian who developed schizophrenia films a war stricken Muslim region in the Philippines to vie for the best thesis film in her class and prove to her parents she can make a career on her own

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          • That's a risky plan of hers - those states are sky high!

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          • A woman finds herself in a courtroom with no memory of who she is or how she got there. When she discovers that she’s a criminal barrister representing the deadliest domestic terrorist the UK has ever seen, she decides to leave only to find that she's on an island. She tries to escape but the island won’t let her go.

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            • This starts off as John Grisham and turns into The Prisoner! Really intriguing, Laura

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              • Thanks both!

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                • I was thinking The Prisoner, too! It works, I'd open it and read more -


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                • Five undergraduates bury a girl killed following a sex party. Seven years later they are hunted down and slaughtered one by one.

                  In a world where revenge includes torture, mutilation and a knife between the ribs four young men are dead, can the police find the last one before the killers?

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                  • Caron, this structure is different:

                    Five undergraduates bury a girl killed following a sex party. Seven years later they are hunted down and slaughtered one by one.

                    This is really the elevator pitch. Nothing else. I added the secoond line:

                    In a world where revenge includes torture, mutilation and a knife between the ribs four young men are dead, can the police find the last one before the killers?

                    Because it tells a story. Something I picked up from a website dealing with the film industry.

                    If you want to know search for 'How do I write a logline'.






                     

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                    • Ok Ian you seem sorted. Only taking time to try help and comment. 

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                      • Thank you for your interest.

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                      • Write what you know, they said. So I murdered five people.

                        Part of a trilogy. See also: Life on the Run & Lessons from a Women’s Prison.

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                        • Now you point it out, that is true. But I didn't read it that way, so I still suggest Heather could tweak it. The concept it still a great one, for a very black comedy/thriller. 

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                          • I do get what Glyn means, but I did get Heather's meaning. Perhaps a slight rewording to clarify?

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                            • Write what you know, they said. So I murdered five people to write a thriller. 

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                            • The Hunt for Delphi - Can a reality TV show find the lost love of a dying millionaire? 

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                              • I think this is perfect.

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                                • Why thank you Libby. 😀 

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                                  • Yep, sounds fabulous Jane

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                                  • Marry a murder or face destitution?

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                                    • I'd like to know what kind of destruction, if it fits in.

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                                    • It feels too short to me, Angela. 

                                      Is this any good:

                                      X faces destitution if she doesn't marry, but her fiance is a murderer.

                                      (I'm assuming your MC is female btw.)

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                                      • It feels too short to me, Angela. 

                                        Is this any good:

                                        X faces destitution if she doesn't marry, but her fiance is a murderer.

                                        (I'm assuming your MC is female btw.)

                                        Hi Libby, thanks for the suggestion.  I haven't finalised it yet, so I'll keep that in mind. Getting the balance right is so hard, isn't it?

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                                      • Story about the journey of a young woman, who was abused and neglected as a child, as she navigates a confusing world and two cultures whilst dealing with tragedies that strike. 

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                                        • I agree with the comments above that specificity is all that's needed to make this fly. I.e. which cultures? 

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                                          • Hi Jahanara, I was basically about to say exactly what I see Libby has said above. Although I am confused about the word 'strike' and I wonder if actually you could be more detailed with only a few more words. For example:

                                            ...whilst dealing with personal and global tragedies that engulf her.

                                            or

                                            ...whilst dealing with familial tragedies from which there is no escape

                                            What I am getting at is, if the tragedies are major events, rather than personal ones, it entirely changes the feel of the book. So: the young woman is dealing with her childhood issues finds herself swept up in the events of the Arab spring and loses those close to her is very different to that woman having a child who is taken from her by a disease and then suffers the loss of a close friend. Both could be deeply compelling stories but will offer a totally different experience to the reader / agent.


                                            Incidentally, if you haven't written the Arab Spring version... I might make that my next novel! If you have, I am definitely the target audience and I look forward to buying it!

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                                            • Mm. Personal opinion time again but I'd avoid starting a pitch with a subordinate clause because a) they don't give an instant picture or concept, and b) the reader has to hold the phrase in mind in order to decipher the rest of the sentence.

                                              I know it sounds pendantic but a child could be either/any gender, something abused and neglected could be an animal - even a garden. A young woman, however, is clear and instant. 

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                                            • They say a city never sleeps. But this one does. And when it sleeps, it dreams. Too bad for those of us that live here, when those dreams are troubled. When the nightmares come.

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                                              • A city may never sleep, but its people do. And they're having nightmares.

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                                                • Ah, but it's not the people who are dreaming. That's the point... it is the actual city. Playing with a vague idea of an SF dystopia about a sentient city whose AI is breaking down and manifesting its 'nightmares' in reality... much to the inconvenience of its inhabitants. But wanted that not to be explicit in the pitch since its a big reveal late in the story.

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                                                  • Ahh, OK -- A city may never sleep, but this one has nightmares -- and it's scaring the dickens out of its people. HAHA, I know, rubbish, but I'm having fun playing with this. Your idea is really intriguing.

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                                                  • but loved the tone

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                                                    • A master piano tuner damned by his own manipulation of music, finds redemption in a woman who sees sound as colour.

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                                                      • Hi Iren. Starting you sentence with 'damned' or manipulated' may be more impactful than 'A master piano tuner...' 'Damned by his own manipulation of music, a master piano tuner finds redemption in a woman for whom sound, is colour.'

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                                                        • Thanks Robert, I like the idea of starting with Damned, I'll give it some thought...

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                                                        • Harrid and his friend Jax are exploring in the forest, when they come across two girls who have found a container from the world beyond the Fall. They and a small group of friends open it up, only to find it empty. That night they are all visited by terrible dreams and a voice only they can hear begins to speak to them. The superstitious villagers fear they have been possessed by an evil spirit and imprison them. Escaping, the group flee in the night, making for the ruins of the Silver City, guided by the mysterious voice. There they begin to uncover a lost history of their people; corrupted by retelling over centuries of time. Travelling through wonders they have no understanding of, they journey across the world to the fabled Life Tree, whose trunk was said to reach up to heaven. They have an appointment with God, and God is running out of time. But the hunters will not stop in their pursuit, and terrors from the past are waiting to rise up against them. If they fail, many thousands will die and they will lose the hope of a better future for their people.

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                                                          • Neil, it sounds like a wonderful story to me, but is perhaps a bit on the long side for an elevator pitch. Tryig to pick out the key points is never easy, but trying to do so is a very useful exercise. Below an attempt from me - apologies in advance!

                                                            Cursed by their discovery of a mystery container, friends Harrid and Jax are forced to flee from their village. Guided by a mysterious voice they struggle to stay one step in front of their hunters as they advance towards the Silver City and a meeting that they just can't afford to be late for, a meeting with God.

                                                            Just some thoughts.


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                                                            • Yes, completely. I think its harder to make these elevator pitches for your own stories than for other people's because of the what you mention. 

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                                                              • Thanks Paul, really helpful. 

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                                                              • Detective Agnew's suspect is a ghost with a new girlfriend. Can his widow help him to find them?

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                                                                • Hi David, the sense here  is a bit difficult to follow. It sounds like Agnew's widow is helping out.

                                                                  Detective Agnew's suspect is a ghost with a new girlfriend. Can the ghost's widow help Agnew to find the ghost and the girlfriend?

                                                                  That's clunky but is clearer.
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                                                                • Wendy has always dreamed of being the star, and when she gets booked to be the singer in the band for an 80s music weekend that dream promises to come true at last. Then the band start disappearing, kidnapped one by one. Forced to work alongside her old nemesis Dot, can she solve the mystery before she reaches the final curtain?

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                                                                  • Sounds intriguing, David. Can you clarify it a bit? And is it a supernatural thriller? Sounds almost as if it could be a comedy - sorry if I'm way off there. 

                                                                    Detective Agnew's suspect is a ghost with a new dead [if she's a ghost too - I think you need to specify if she's alive or dead] girlfriend. Can the real-life widow help Agnew find the spectral pair? [comedy version]

                                                                    Or something like 'Can the real-life widow help Agnew find the murderous pair?' [serious thriller version] 


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                                                                    • Thanks Libby, that does help a lot. It's already a lot better than anything I've ever submitted to an agent :p That's teh popwer of Jerico.

                                                                       Trying to be objective, I still have an aversion to putting spoilers into an introduction to a mystery, but that is exactly what I have to do in a letter to an agent. It's just not instinctive. I also find it strange that something that is blatantly obvious to me is opaque to everyone else, but that is a good lesson to learn too. The problem is in the writing not the reader!

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                                                                      • Again apologies for my efforts at writing a pitch for a book that I know nothing about - hopefully there is something in there that is just a little bit useful...

                                                                        Thanks Paul, that is exactly what is needed for a pitch critique. Good case for including in any beta readings.

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                                                                        • Thanks to Paul and Libby for the help above, I think I've got something I could send to an agent now. Apologies to any agent reading this who recognises my name..... :o

                                                                          A drowned girl reopens DI Agnew’s most baffling investigation, but now he finds a suspect. Josh lost his wife in a fire, then found old flame Chloe again, and took her sailing. But ghosts are people who don’t know they’re dead, and Margaret thinks she lost Josh in a fire. Is Chloe to be the next victim? Who are the real ghosts?

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                                                                        • Could do with some tips on this - all comments welcome. Thanks for taking the time: 

                                                                          Stuart Finlay is being targeted by brutal gangsters and doesn’t know why

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                                                                          • Hi Jackie, I think we need more of a sense of who Stuart Finlay is. That will make it a stronger hook. Also do we need "brutal" to describe gangsters. Can you be more specific about the type of gangster rather than using a descriptor?

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                                                                            • I can't see Iren's comments. I'm new to this and I struggle a little with Townhouse as a forum.

                                                                              The idea is to find the tagline or teaser in the USP for this. Ideally no more than 20 words. A 'jaws in space' type thing (the tagline for Alien). Incredibly hard to write, but there shouldn't be much detail in it. I just struggle to know what my USP is and I think it's the fact that he's become a target because of his investigation. He has no idea how it all ties in though.

                                                                              I don't know, just thinking out loud. Thank you very much for taking the time to comment. Much appreciated.

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                                                                              • The gangsters are men for hire. They do everything as long as the money is right - murder, rape, intimidation, etc. I wasn't sure how to describe that, so came up with gangster, but any input on alternatives would be great. 

                                                                                Immediately following this pitch is a longer blurb in the letter for the agent. This is just the one line, so I'm keeping it fairly simple, just the concept. Not sure if I've chosen the right concept though or if it works to hook you in.

                                                                                Thank you very much for taking the time to look at it and comment though. Greatly appreciated.

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                                                                              • I like this. Perhaps a bit on what happens and where he ends up, even in a few words. I also wonder about putting names in the short kind of elevator pitch. Perhaps names are more for a longer, cover-letter-style burb? But I'm not certain on that.

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                                                                                • Re. names, I think it depends. "An investigative reporter" is more informative than "Jill Bloggs", but if you repeat it in multiple sentences then "Jill" is more punchy.

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                                                                                  • You're very right. I had in my head earlier that the name made it more personal, which I do like, but where there is something about the person that is critical, that must trump the name. Or do both work?

                                                                                    Jill, a middle aged investigative reporter...

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                                                                                  • Wow! Some great pitches here. 


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                                                                                    • Hey, how did Mother's day go? Hope you had lots of work!

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                                                                                      • Thanks for asking, Julie. It was totally crazy! Never made so many bouquets in my life😂. That's it now, though, done the 'big three' floristry events for this season - Christmas, valentine's and M day.  Now just looking forward to spring

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                                                                                      • My first, developed for the other week

                                                                                        '1974: A teenage clairvoyant finds diary pages stuck to the walls of an attic room in a house haunted by six ghosts. He & a retired war photographer must discover who wrote the diary, how it's connected to his abduction in childhood and to the legendary Owl Witch'


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                                                                                        • Another developed for the same event, thanks to the fabulous writers here! 

                                                                                          'Neil sees ghosts & is tormented by their dying moments. Now he must repeatedly relive his best friend's death to solve his murder, while dodging a Victorian psychopath & a Messianic leader hell-bent on starting a war between the living & the dead.'

                                                                                          Did a first person version too

                                                                                          'A Victorian psychopath is hunting me. And a cult leader hell-bent on starting a war between the living & the dead. I’ve seen ghosts all my life, been tormented by their dying moments. Let’s hope I can live long enough to solve my best friend's murder & stop Armageddon'

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                                                                                          • I like number 2, 'Neil sees ghosts...' best. The information seem more to the point and is more striking than in the first version, where I am trying to fit together the ghosts, the photographer, the owl witch and the abduction. It's quite a lot of info.

                                                                                            I think first person might work if there is a strong voice, but it's difficult to get that over in a paragraph. 

                                                                                            Tone-wise number 2 is much darker, number 3 seems quite light, 'Let's hope' feels a little blasé -- but it depends which tone you are after. 

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                                                                                            • That's great advice, Iren. Thanks very much

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                                                                                            • Two sides of the same Coyne: Youngster raised in poverty by abusive parents, witnesses the death of his best friend. His odyssey leads him to Cambridge where he discovers the identity of the murderer who turns out to be his real father. 

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                                                                                              • Not sure a pitch should include spoilers, though? That's for a synopsis. Maybe something like, "An abused boy witnesses the death of his best friend --  but learning the truth about it leads him to an even more chilling discovery."

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                                                                                              • Just been on Netflix with the intention of watching a film, but got distracted by just how damned good their elevator pitches are. Here's a few...

                                                                                                Bridgerton

                                                                                                The eight close-knit siblings of the Bridgerton family look for love and happiness in London high society.


                                                                                                Yes Day

                                                                                                A mom and dad who usually say no decide to say yes to their kids’ wildest requests — with a few ground rules — on a whirlwind day of fun and adventure.


                                                                                                Bridget Jones’s Diary

                                                                                                Why you should never, ever even think of starting up an affair with your dreamy boss, Chapter One.


                                                                                                Jurassic World

                                                                                                The owners of a dinosaur theme park try to attract tourists with a thrilling new exhibit, but a deadly giant breaks loose and terrorises the island.


                                                                                                The Enigma Code

                                                                                                During World War II, a mathematician leads a team of cryptanalysts as they work feverishly to break the Germans’ notorious Enigma code.


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                                                                                                • This is a great selection, Iren. The only one which doesn't work for me is Yes Day. It's a bit clunky and messy. It's the subordinate clause problem again, and there are two here: 'who usually say no' and ' — with a few ground rules — '. 

                                                                                                  And 'a whirlwind day of fun and adventure' doesn't conjure anything specific enough, only a vague idea of people whirling about.

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                                                                                                  • Could have been my typo :-o -- netflix wouldn't allow me to copy and paste so I had to type them out.

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                                                                                                  • Rogue spies, mercenaries, and British Intelligence fight a secret battle across the Middle East for the life of a young woman set up to be murdered in the Syrian desert by those determined to use her death to deepen the conflict.

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                                                                                                    • Love this!!

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                                                                                                      • It captures my interest, Matt, but I'm not sure who your protagonist is. Is it the young woman? If so she should be the center of your pitch... A young woman flees through the Syrian desert (or across the Middle East--you don't need both in your pitch) then continue from there.

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                                                                                                      • A woman who survives a horrific accident by being turned into a cyborg has to save her family from its greatest danger:herself. 

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                                                                                                        • I love the second half of this, James. I think the first half could be tighter and more precise. 

                                                                                                          A woman survives a horrific accident by being turned into a cyborg but has to save ...

                                                                                                          Can you be clearer about the horrific accident? The phrase itself is a bit of a cliche and I can't picture what's happened to her. 

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                                                                                                          • how about this: Following a horrific accident on a spacecraft just after launch destined for Mars, sole survivor Yasmina Miles-Page undergoes radical, experimental surgery that transforms her into a  cyborg in order for her to live. Now she has to save her family from its greatest threat: herself. 

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                                                                                                            • Hi James

                                                                                                              Just a suggestion on tightening up the first section. 

                                                                                                              Mars astronaut Yasmina, only survives a launch accident by becoming a cyborg. Now she must save her family from its greatest threat: herself. 


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                                                                                                            • I have two potentials, although the second one is maybe a bit misleading. When I say misleading, it's spot on, but it's all from Kelly's POV, rather than the Shadows. These were both developed for PitMad a few weeks back.


                                                                                                              Psychologist Kelly breaks her Reality Filter & discovers magic is real. Doubting her sanity, she must fight an ancient Shadow intent on killing her favourite patient or she will lose her bf, her life, & worst—her job.


                                                                                                              An ancient Shadow sees Kelly as a new challenge. When she offers herself to him freely, he’s ecstatic, but quickly realises his mistake. She’s a psychologist, learning she has powerful magic of her own. 


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                                                                                                              • The second one sounds more intriguing to me. 🙂

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                                                                                                                • To save the master piano tuner she loves, Violette must face her unbearable ability to see sound as colour. -This says romance to me! -

                                                                                                                  I think you still need to brainstorm the second sentence. I like the damned part because it gives your pitch a dark phantom of the opera touch. If you just say she risks losing him forever, it's in any romance novel. I'm not sure how to work it in, though.

                                                                                                                  When a master piano tuner manipulates music, Violette must face her unbearable ability to see sound as colour. If she can't see past her painful memories, the man she loves will be damned forever.


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                                                                                                                  • Thanks! These are great points and ideas, I'll give it some work.:)

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                                                                                                                  • The last one if I saw it on its own would make me think she was offering herself sexually? 

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                                                                                                                    • Hmm, yeah probably not that one then.

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                                                                                                                    • I have just seen Be Aaronovitch post this, about his latest novella, and thought it fit perfectly into this thread!


                                                                                                                      She's a 13 year old Trouble Maker, the other’s a talking fox born into espionage. Together they fight crime (and eat cheesepuffs).


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                                                                                                                      • A quiet teacher seeks catharsis through urban terrorism, blackmail and arson.

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                                                                                                                        • My favourite recent tagline is this one from Laura Shepherd-Robinson's Daughters of Night (it's also the book's opening sentence): In the wrong hands a secret is a weapon. 

                                                                                                                          Hearing Harry say in last night's webinar that the elevator pitch for Harry Potter should be something as simple as 'Boy goes to wizard school', here's my attempt at a tagline:


                                                                                                                          Avengers aren't always angels.

                                                                                                                          When the stakes include murder, fighting dirty is the only option. 

                                                                                                                           

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                                                                                                                          • Kelly, separated, travels a bumpy road to achievement, then disappears.  Everyone says she would never leave her children but that is exactly what she has done.

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                                                                                                                            • You piqued my interest. Ready to read!

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                                                                                                                            • Thank you, Beatrice.  Glad to hear it!  Perhaps it would interest an agent, too.  The trouble is, I'm nowhere near completing the first draft yet.

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                                                                                                                              • I loved your book premise! I have an advantage over most writers, I am retired. So, finding the time to write is not an issue. I imagine, like the rest of the world, you have to squeeze it into an already busy schedule. Anything great takes time... keep at it! 

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                                                                                                                                • Actually, I'm retired, too but making slow progress.  (I hope no agents are reading this as it's said that some don't like to take on the older writer).  I'm certainly going to keep at it.  Good luck with your writing.

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                                                                                                                                • Just wanted to add I didn't start writing in retirement.  I've been doing it since long before that!

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                                                                                                                                  • I started my novel 30 years ago!!! Hated the ending, where the nicest person in the book was the killer, which caused me to steer clear of my own book all this time. It took the pandemic for me to rethink things and reinvent a new ending. Which I do love. So I'm a slow thinker! But it is now finished, finally, and going out for final proofing. Who knew a pandemic could spring forth inspiration.

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                                                                                                                                  • 👍

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                                                                                                                                    • When an old crime is dug up, Eddie tries to rebury it with disasterous consequences.

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                                                                                                                                      • Love this Jo! I just wonder if, instead of 'is dug up' which doesn't flow as well as the rest, you might use 'resurfaces' or 'is discovered' Really good though. I'd want to read it.

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                                                                                                                                        • Thank you! the simplicity belies a hellishly complicated cold-case style plot but this really distills the essence of the novel. I wonder if 'unearthed' might fit better? I used 'dug up' as the novel starts with the body being...erm...dug up on a building site. Jo

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                                                                                                                                          • Thank you! the simplicity belies a hellishly complicated cold-case style plot but this really distills the essence of the novel. I wonder if 'unearthed' might fit better? I used 'dug up' as the novel starts with the body being...erm...dug up on a building site. Jo

                                                                                                                                            Yes, unearthed is good. It sounds engrossing. If you ever want a bit of it read by someone, consider passing it to me please. I’d love it! Keep up the good work. Angela


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                                                                                                                                            • Thanks Angela, I would love that. 

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                                                                                                                                            • When Nadia & Luca collide at work, there’s an instant connection. But to make their love last, they must work through their trauma— and outsmart their scorned ex-lovers & the sinister cult determined to keep them apart.

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                                                                                                                                              • I used to work in an office like that LOL - sounds intriguing...

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                                                                                                                                                • Hahah thanks! 

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