Emma Nelson may be trying to get her manuscript picked in PitchWars this year, and to sell her first book, but make no mistake: she is already real pro.

What characterized a pro?

  • A writer who honors her deadlines.
  • A writer who does not give up, even when she's tired, frustrated and overwhelmed.
  • A writer who weighs the opinions of trusted advisors but who is always clear that SHE is the god of her own story.
  • A writer who understands that the big picture elements of story matter as well as the tiny details.
  • A writer who knows when to call it a day.

I want to share with you some of the the email exchange Emma and I had over the pitch that we had declared done in Volume 6. Not much changed between then and what we submitted. Just a few words. Just a few phrases. But this is what it looks like for a pro to dig in. This is what takes work from good to great.

Here's where we started:

EMMA

I really love this! I think it's a perfect representation of what the book MEANS. I could be 100% happy if this is our pitch.

And then I got this:

EMMA

I tweaked like three words. How's this?

After her grandmother passed away, Cici Dardompre left America’s most haunted city in search of proof that death isn’t as final as her mortician father believes. When an upstart competitor threatens the family business, she returns to Salem and finds a haunted tour-guide job to keep her quest alive. As the spirits of Salem’s legendary witches begin hunting her, Cici jumps at the chance to slip into the past, skid through time, and finally uncover what death means for the soul as precisely as she knows what it means for the body.

 

JENNIE

So good! Do you love it? That's what matters!

 

EMMA:

Sorry for the very delayed response. I've had kids throwing up all day.

I kinda 100% love it. You?

 

JENNIE

Me, too! I love it, too!

But then I worked on Emma's query -- a whole different undertaking -- and changed my mind about the pitch. I was nervous about letting her know because Emma and I had a long phone conversation in the middle of this exchange where she said she was tired and frustrated with my endless note-giving. She was exhausted -- with things in her real life and things in her family life -- and wasn't sure she could do any more work on it. But  I screwed up my courage and sent this:

Don’t hate me  — but the query felt so much richer to me than the pitch and since we had a few words to play with I tried to sneak in some of what is so good about the query. It also aligns them better. What do you think?

EMMA

I agree, I like those ideas in there. I think the last sentence got a little convoluted, so I edited that down a bit, but if you think the things I cut add voice, let me know.  

After her grandmother passed away, Cici Dardompre left America’s most haunted city in search of proof that death isn’t as final as her mortician father believes. When an upstart competitor threatens the family business, she returns to Salem and finds a haunted tour-guide job to keep her quest alive. As spirits of Salem’s legendary witches begin hunting her, Cici jumps at the chance to slip through time in search of Granmè and prove that what matters in death, as in life, is defining your own narrative.

We thought we were finally done, but then I got this:

 

 

EMMA:

k. Sorry. i tweaked one more thing. I kept wanting a "but" in there, but we didn't have space. Now that we do, I think it flows better. No?

After her grandmother passed away, Cici Dardompre left America’s most haunted city in search of proof that death isn’t as final as her mortician father believes. But when an upstart eco-friendly funeral home threatens the family’s traditional business, she returns to Salem and finds a haunted tour-guide job to keep her quest alive. As spirits of Salem’s legendary witches begin hunting her, Cici jumps at the chance to slip through time in search of Granmè and prove that what matters in death, as in life, is defining your own narrative.

 

JENNIE

I like it! Good!

EMMA:

Okay, one thought. Since the green funeral is kind of an interesting trend right now, should we include that? Something like:

After her grandmother passed away, Cici Dardompre left America’s most haunted city in search of proof that death isn’t as final as her mortician father believes. But when an upstart eco-friendly funeral home threatens the family's traditional business, she returns to Salem and finds a haunted tour-guide job to keep her quest alive. As spirits of Salem’s legendary witches begin hunting her, Cici jumps at the chance to slip through time in search of Granmè and prove that what matters in death, as in life, is defining your own narrative.

 

JENNIE

Made that change! Going to wait to submit on Halloween for some good ghost karma!

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