Nancy Sondel's Pacific Coast Children's Writers Workshop
16th Annual    September 28-30, 2018    Master Class to Masterpiece
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“These exercises helped me launch my career. I utilized them in query letters.
My responses made it easier for my editor to sell my book to the acquisitions team.”
— Annemarie O’Brien, debut author of Lara’s Gift (Knopf/Random House)
“All the pushing and prodding paid off. It's amazing how getting the right 40-word pitch inspired me to write a much stronger synopsis and Chapter One.” — 2004 alum


Our application helps us get mutually acquainted. It includes questions about your main character’s emotional journey, and how you present your marketing pitch.

Below, two sample questions may help you determine answers to the following: How well do you really know your story? Are you ready to pitch it to an editor or agent? These questions may unearth useful material for your manuscript, synopsis, and/or query letter.

bullet   QUESTION #1

Write a one- or two-sentence “pitch” about your novel, distilling it to no more than 40 words. Don’t try to compress every important event into this sentence; just answer: “What’s your story about?” Be specific. Include protagonist’s age (deleting “years old” saves words); time and place, if not contemporary; and the main character’s driving, well-motivated need or desire (internal and external conflict).

In You Can Write a Novel, James V. Smith compares the brief nugget statement (a term he coined, aka pitch) to “your novel on the head of a pin.” Smith adds: “If you don’t envision a truly heroic character with heroic goals, on an action-packed journey, encountering obstacles and a worthy opponent and arriving alive and wiser at the end of your novel after having engaged in a titanic struggle, it’s not likely your novel will be seriously considered in the publishing business.” [Note: Interpret "heroic" and "titanic" to mean something age-appropriate of immense consequence to your young reader.]

A pitch also indicates your novel’s premise. In The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children, Nancy Lamb says a premise is “the most fundamental idea in your book that must be proven by the actions of your characters... the underlying glue that binds your story together. [A premise] also keeps your plot on track... supports the plot... is the essential truth you want to convey [that] gives shape to your story and meaning to the lives of your characters.” In How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey says writing a novel without a premise “is like trying to row a boat without oars.”

Examples of a Pitch

  • When Seth’s best friend, Matt, illegally shoots a wolf, 12-year-old Seth struggles to determine if their friendship can overcome their philosophical differences. — By award-winning author Mary Casanova, summarizing Wolf Shadows (Hyperion). More tips included in Casanova’s helpful article accompanying our application. (22 words)
  • Haunted by her dead baby sister, 12-year-old Bree struggles to exorcise or at least soothe not only the ghost but the guilty memories of her own role in the death. — By PCCWW alum Joni Sensel, summarizing Blank Pages. (30 words)
  • Living in a 1922 world of poverty, strikes, prejudice, murder, and mine accidents, Toby, 13, musters his inner strength to save an antagonistic classmate trapped in a Utah coal mine. — By PCCWW alum Karen Mandel, summarizing Footprints in the Coal. (30 words)
  • Luna, 15, braves the Faerie Woods, seeking a mentor to control her visions, but finds all-consuming romance with a perilous Fae. When both visions and beloved betray her, Luna must discover why she should trust them—or herself—ever again. — By Juniper Nichols, summarizing Moonchild. (40 words)
  • When Justin, 16, spends time with Jinsen, the unusual and artistic new student whom school bullies torment and call Buddha Boy, he’s forced to decide which is more important—peer social order or getting to know someone extraordinary. — Adapted from the book jacket of Buddha Boy (Kathe Koja; Penguin/Speak) by Nancy Sondel (38 words)

What is your novel’s blurb? Don’t be surprised if this single sentence takes you a few well-spent hours to construct!

bullet  QUESTION #2

Optional; may be deferred. Faculty will discuss some responses at the workshop.

Imagine you’re an editor presenting this manuscript to your publisher’s editorial board for a vote. What’s the hook that will help us market this book; what distinguishes it from others of its genre? How might this story touch adolescents’ emotions and cultivate their thought processes? Why do you think this novel would appeal to readers? (Why are you passionate about writing it?)

Be matter-of-fact. No sermons, self-praise or “infomercials.” Keep this statement handy when you query agents and editors! (75 succinct words, max)

“Good writing has to do with not counting drafts, not keeping track of how many times
you’ve revised something. The only draft that counts is the final draft.”
— Raymond Obstfeld, Novelist’s Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes

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