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Feedback for synopsis and elevator pitch (Joe with an E)

Hi all. Would anybody mind having a glance over the following elevator pitch (to go in my cover letter) and synopsis for my novel Joe with an E?

To save you from counting, the synopsis is 491 words and the elevator pitch is 93 words.

The main things I'd like to know are:

1) Does the pitch sound compelling and is it an OK length?

2) Does it sound like the synopsis describes a good overall story arc?

3) Does it look like there's anything missing from my synopsis?

4) Is there anything I've included in the synopsis that doesn't need to be there?


‘I’m Joe, Joe with an ‘E’, cos I’m a boy.’ are his first words as he washes up on the island which is to become his new home. Somewhere he can finally be himself. As a foetus, he should have been terminated as soon as his developing sexual organs were detected. At thirteen, he’ll soon no longer pass as a neut. But as the fragile island community of girls and boys risks discovery, Joe and two friends venture back across neut Britain, hoping to find more people like them in the world beyond.


JOE (13) is a boy on the cusp of adolescence. He’s on his way to the island where he can finally stop pretending to be a neut.

As soon as he arrives, he’s welcomed by vivacious NATS (12), a girl given up by her parents when she was four. Nats excitedly shows Joe around the island which includes the revelation that babies here grow not in pregnancy pods, but inside girls. As a boy, Joe will soon be expected to help with making babies. But others seem keen to send him away on an expedition to search for people like them in the world beyond isolated neut Britain.

For a while, Joe is able to settle into island life. Apart from one failed advance, nobody asks for help to make babies and there’s little enthusiasm for sending anyone on any expedition. Joe is tasked with becoming the community’s first fisherman. When introvert CAIN rescues him from drowning and then helps him to make a success of the fishing, the two become firm friends.

On a stormy autumn night, a boatload of new children is spotted off the island’s rocky coast. Joe and Cain must row out to rescue them. Of fourteen, only one survives. Aware of the growing danger for children trying to reach the island, Joe, Nats and Cain take it upon themselves to plan the expedition to France.

As they plot a course from the Scottish Highlands to Dover, they must not get caught by the authorities who want to shut down DiG, the underground organisation responsible for saving the ‘abnormal’ children. Those discovered are terminated pre-birth or face ‘corrective surgery’ after birth. The three walk across a derelict northwest Scotland, before taking a fateful train journey.

A passenger spots that Nats is bleeding (her first period). Nats and Joe escape but their dependable friend Cain is captured. Reaching Joe’s home town, they hope that Joe’s parents, GEORGY and CRIS might help them, not knowing the two had separated after Cris helped the police identify DiG operatives. Cris alerts the police to Joe’s reappearance, persuaded this will lead to their family to be reunited. Joe and Nats must flee again to continue their journey south.

Joe explores Dover alone, planning for their channel crossing whilst Nats hides out in a barn, resting a sprained ankle. Georgy, whose first person narrative chapters about Joe’s early life are dotted throughout the book, heads to Dover, hoping to be reunited with Joe. They have a few precious moments together before Georgy has to waylay the police, allowing Joe to steal a boat and cross the channel.

The book closes with Joe in a French hospital; Nats still in the barn, being looked after by a timid neut child; and Cain locked in a police cell but under the care of a sergeant who is starting to have sympathy for these abnormal children. Their stories will continue in book two of the trilogy.

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Replies (10)
  • Hi Paul, 

    Thanks for sharing your pitch and synopsis.

    Starting with the pitch, at 93 words it's a bit on the short side, and you are also wasting words with backstory — As a foetus, he should have been terminated as soon as his developing sexual organs were detected. That doesn't need to be there or it could come across better. Also "no longer passing as a neut" what does that mean? Does neut not go through  puberty and hence don't develop Adam's apple, facial hair, etc... You need to pull in specifics to show the uniqueness of your story.

    My advice would be to select about 50 books in the same genre as yours and study their blurb on Amazon, how much of the story do they reveal, how to they intrigue the reader, etc...

    About your synopsis, I have a couple of questions. How long does the neut society has been in existence? Your synopsis makes it sounds like it's barely one generation old because you hint that there are no adults on the island so if the neut society is older than that where are the non-neut adults. Also the fact that a 13-year-old gets proposition to have sex and procreate his very creepy. From past thread you mentioned that you thought your book is YA and I believe 13-year-old having sex or being expected to make or bear children would a big no-no for that age. IIRC YA readers tend to read up so a story about a 13-year-old would attract 10 to12 year-old readers. Plus 13 is limit MG / YA.

    At the end of your synopsis you mentioned the 2nd POV but I'm not sure I see why that POV is needed. The story seems completely rounded without it. 

    Finally from the last paragraph it sounds like your story ends on a cliff-hanger. Being a debut your novel needs to be able to stand as a standalone and have a satisfying ending. Agents are happy to take on debut that works as standalone with series potential but not a debut that doesn't feel complete in itself.

    I hope this helps.

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    • Hi Laure, thanks for your feedback. Really helpful because I wouldn't want an agent to react as you have. I shall have to give some thought to how to approach the various apparent 'deal breakers' you have raised and also what age group I really am aiming this at. There is nothing explicit in there (compared to the sex scene in Mallorie Blackman's Noughts & Crosses, mine are positively non existent), but as I believe would be the case in the world I've created, teenagers have rediscovered sex and there aren't the age based taboos that we have today. It's about 150-200 years in the future but for most of that time, all babies have been born 'neut' and no, they don't experience puberty in the same way. A relatively recent 'mutation' has led to viable non-neut, male and female foetuses starting to develop.

      The second POV is absolutely integral and essential to the way the whole thing works and is something that beta readers have been most full of praise for. Perhaps that's something else that makes it foolish to pitch as a YA novel and I should be pitching it as adult but with a teen protagonist.

      In terms of the ending. Yes, I need to give that some thought. I had a Jericho festival one-to-one with an agent and was told I should make clear that it's the first part of a trilogy, hence the way I've ended my synopsis. It is true that readers will finish my book wanting to then find out what happens next to my characters. I'm not sure at the moment how I can make it more standalone but will have to give that some serious thought.

      On the pitch that you said was too short, it was just what I imagined being the opening pitch bit of my cover letters. In webinars I've watched recently, agents have said this should be 3-4 sentences so if anything I thought it could be too long.

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      • IIRC the MC in Noughts & Crosses is 16-years-old so sex between teenagers that age is fine but the notion of sex with 13-year-old where it is a child on the cusp of being a teenager is completely different. Also pregnancy for children as young as thirteen is physically dangerous. I'm not quite sure why they are expected to have babies straight away, makes more sense to find more children like them and naturally when they become adults have children of their own. Also in a neut society how do they know what having sex is?

        To be honest taken everything into account I strongly believe your novel  is adult fiction with a child/teenage protagonist. I know a lot of agents say that, my agent says it too but when looking at most successful query letters they always seen to be a bit longer. Maybe instead of you the pitch try to write the complete cover letter?

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      • Hi Paul

        I had to write my pitch recently and got some great advice from a friend who's good at these things. He said, rather than facts, you need to capture the excitement and chemistry of the story and what is at stake for your character.

        So I'd agree with L that the backstory really doesn't fit here. Quite often it's good to start with a one liner to catch the heart of the story, then expand from this. What about something like:

        A gendered boy fights for survival in a world of cloned neuts.

        Then maybe:

        As puberty hits, Joe can no longer hide his differences and must flee his family and the judgement of a society who cannot accept him. A desperate search leads Joe to the sanctuary of xyz island and its gendered inhabitants. But the world is changing. More gendered children are born everyday and Joe must leave the safety of his new home to help them.

        Apologies for any liberties I've taken with your story, but I hope that gives you an idea of what I mean. A good idea of L's to look at book blurbs to get an idea. For a sub letter I actually thought the length was ok.

        Hope that helps. I'll look at the synopsis separately.

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        • Synopsis are so short that they should be the bare bones of the story, demonstrating that you have a full story arc. All side plots and unnecessary characters should be excluded. 

          In your synopsis you have quite a lot of specific detail, for example how Joe makes friends with Cain. This sort of detail doesn't belong in a synopsis and suggests your story lacks plot. I don't think that's actually the case, I think you're just concentrating on the wrong areas.

          You mention that your beta readers liked the Cris/Georgy thread, and it's essential to the story. So where is it in the synopsis? You're line 'Georgy, whose first person narrative chapters about Joe’s early life are dotted throughout the book' absolutely has to go. I think you need to weave this POV thread into the rest of the synopsis. It might even be the place to start.

          Why didn't Cris and Georgy have the child destroyed in test tube when the gender was spotted? I'm very interested to know that.

          I think you need to identify the big turning points in your story, and use these as the basis of the synopsis. So, for example, rather than all the detail about the 14 children drowning while trying to reach the island, you show how this affects Joe. eg:

          When more children drown attempting to reach the island, Joe realises he has no choice but to leave his new home and find a way to...

          Keep the facts tight and only show those that drive the story forward.

          I also agree with L about the ending for a debut. To mention a trilogy that went seriously off the rails, but is a good example of how to do this in the first book, you could look at Divergent. The characters win the battle and set the society onto a new path, but there's a mystery to be solved and they head off into the sunset to find out what it is. That might be the kind of ending you're looking for. It has the satisfaction of an ending for the reader, but leaves it open for the next installment.

          Hopes some of that helps. Synopsis are horrible, pesky things to get right.

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          • Thanks again. Yes, I have read Divergent but may need to look back it. My dilemma is that I feel the three friends need to end up in three different places at the end of the story. Obviously Joe is my MC but Nats is so integral too that I struggle to see how I can 'tidy up' the ending to bring true resolution whilst keeping them apart and Nats unsure of where Joe has gone (whether he's been captured or for some reason has left for France without her).

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            • You might find The Gilded Cage by Vic James useful in that case. At the end the whole family has been torn apart and left in dreadful situations, but the story has a finale. A face off between the different factions, and the good guys fail. So the story has a complete arc structure, but the resolution is left open.

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            • Thanks Kate, that's really helpful. One thing is that in my latest edit, I've totally eradicated any use of the terms 'gender' or 'gendered' because I was aware that although gender identity is the force behind my story, actually what is different about my main characters is their sex, not their gender. Also, many of my neut characters have hints of a gender, such that it's constantly hard not to refer to them as either he or she when talkit about them. In fact, one of my neut characters 'comes out' as identifying as female.

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              • I was stabbing in the dark to give you an idea of what I meant. It's about finding the essence of your story and will need to use your words and phrases, but don't get too hung up on the details in the blurb.

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              • First things first, Paul: I suspect I am a long way from your target audience, and likewise a long way from the agent-filtering for your target, so take what I say with as large a chunk of salt as appropriate.

                Laure and Kate have both mentioned details you've included in your pitch and synopsis that ring wrong for the apparent target age. I will go further and suggest that these are not issues that need to be resolved ar the pitch/synopsis level, but probably also issues with the manuscript.

                Do you want to distort your pitch and synopsis sufficiently for an agent to request your full manuscript, only for them to discover that there are underlying issues with the story? Do you want to give them a false impression of what you have to offer? (Bait and switch does not work with agents.)

                I didn't even get to the point of considering how well-structured your offerings above were. I was instead put off by logical flaws in what you presented. How could Joe have survived as long as he did in a family where one parent objects to non-neuts? Why is there even such a concept of two-person partnership in this society? How did Nats survive on the island at the age of 4? None of this makes sense. The consequences of this societal structure fall a apart at the lightest poking.

                But the other thing that rang wrong for me is a feeling of underlying preachiness. The story is depected as good vs evil, gendered vs neutophile. I got the impression that it was going to read as an attempt to ram the absolute rightness of the dual-gender paradigm, and the evils of any other view, down the reader's throat.

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