Contest Giveaway: 35 Word Pitch Feedback

Two great pitch contests are coming up that use a 35 world pitch: PitchSlam and NestPitch. I have a particular soft spot in my heart for PitchSlam, since I had the great pleasure of participating (go Team Spyder!) last year, and was amazed at the time and care the hosts took in giving feedback to each participant.

As part of my continuing efforts to give back to the writing community that has done so much to support me, I’m offering free feedback on your 35-word pitch to the first 10 people to post in the comments!

Before you do, though, you might want to read this post I made a while back on avoiding vagueness in short pitches, and to make sure you’ve clearly conveyed character, conflict, and stakes.

I will happily give ONE of the following kinds of feedback (your choice—please specify if it’s not clear):

A) If you have a few pitches using different approaches and you’re torn between them, I will tell you which one I think is working best (or if I think you should combine elements of a couple different pitches, I’ll tell you that, too).


B) If you have a pitch but are having trouble getting it down to 35 words, I can try to make tightening suggestions.


C) If you have your 35 word pitch and just want feedback, I can tell you the one thing I think would most improve your pitch.

I can only take the first 10 commenters, alas, since my time isn’t infinite, but I will do more giveaways in the future.

Good luck to all participating in both these contests!

Published by Melissa Caruso

Fantasy author of the Swords & Fire trilogy: THE TETHERED MAGE (Orbit, 2017), THE DEFIANT HEIR (Orbit, 2018), and THE UNBOUND EMPIRE (Orbit, 2019), as well as the Rooks and Ruin trilogy, beginning with THE OBSIDIAN TOWER (Orbit, 2020). Melissa's debut, THE TETHERED MAGE, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Morningstar Award in 2017. Melissa loves tea, adventure, and the great outdoors, and has been known to swordfight in ballgowns. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two superlative daughters, and assorted pets. Represented by Naomi Davis of BookEnds.

25 thoughts on “Contest Giveaway: 35 Word Pitch Feedback

      1. Thank you!

        When his twin brother Tyler commits suicide, Drew’s world is shattered. Then, he begins receiving a series of letters Tyler left him that force Drew on a path to discover if he’ll do the same.


    1. (I don’t see a reply button under comments more than 2 levels deep, so I’m replying to your original comment…)

      Ooh! Sounds creepy and intense!

      I think you can make this pitch stand out even more by focusing sharply on those letters and choosing words that pop a bit more in a couple places. Here are specifics:

      “World is shattered” is a cliche, and we can safely assume that’s true if his twin committed suicide. You can get words back to use on character/conflict/stakes by cutting that (and also “brother,” for that matter, since it’s implied in “twin”).

      Those letters sound really spooky, and I think you should use more of your 35 words focusing on them and their effect on Drew. How are they forcing him? And I bet you can find more compelling language than “on a path to discover if he’ll do the same” to describe something as intense as considering suicide. Especially due to letters from your dead twin brother!

      You have a great hook here, so anything you can do to focus on the emotional stakes and to make the impact and power of the core conflict stand out will help.

      Good luck!


  1. I’m not sure if my first reply went through (hopefully it doesn’t show up twice). My story is a YA contemporary if it helps. Here’s my pitch, and I’d love option C:

    Instead of coping with her father’s illness, Charlie focuses on other students’ problems as an anonymous doctor, prescribing items to help. But when her best friend betrays her, Charlie decides the perfect remedy is revenge.

    Thanks so much!!


    1. Love “the perfect remedy is revenge”!

      I’d suggest being more specific about the betrayal (especially if that will give us more sense of the stakes), and replacing some of the blander language (“coping,” “focuses,” “items,” etc) with words that will pack more punch and convey more voice. The first sentence is a bit dry and comes off with an adult voice rather than a teen one.

      Like, for instance, “focuses on other students’ problems as an anonymous doctor” could become something like “peddles snake oil to her friends under a fake name.” That’s off the top of my head and I’m sure you can do better, but you get the idea.

      I hope that’s helpful! Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, Melissa! This was really helpful and I definitely think focusing on those bland words will help add some punch. I’m going to get to work on making this pitch shine! Thanks again!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Melissa-

    If you still have a spot left, I’d love to have you critique the 35-word pitch for my YA novel, COWARDS AND CAPES:

    With electricity gone and the superheroes dead, Glenn wields cynicism and a revolver to keep the boy he loves safe… Until a recluse teases salvation: if they collect the dead superheroes, electricity can be restored.

    Thank you!


    1. I sure do have a spot. 🙂 Neat premise!

      I’d suggest reworking the second half for smoother wording and a bit more clarity, and trying to squeeze in emotional stakes if you can. More specifically:

      The phrase “Until a recluse teases salvation” reads a bit awkwardly, and I’m not sure you need to introduce the recluse here. For instance, if you replaced that whole phrase with “But,” I don’t think you lose anything.

      Maybe make “can be restored” active?

      “Collect the dead superheroes” really caught my attention! Do you mean physically collect the dead bodies? Or somehow collect their powers or something? If you’ve got some kind of morbid corpse-collecting vibe going on, that’s pretty unique and flavorful. If not, you may want to be a bit clearer here. Either way, if there’s some way you can get across the flavor/subgenre a bit more here, that might be great… Does it have a gritty, noir feel? More four-color action superhero? Anime-influenced Corpse Captor Sakura? 😉 If I can get that from the pitch, it’ll be more powerful.

      Finally, if you can fit in the emotional/personal stakes, I think that’d make this pitch stronger. The title hints that there might be some personal growth here and not just a “collect them all” adventure quest, and conveying a layer of personal conflict (and what makes this goal urgent for Glenn in particular), that would be great. I know that’s a lot to fit in, but there are places you can tighten to scrape a few more words.

      Good luck!!!


  3. Well, I think I may be too late, but here goes, anyway. 🙂

    When the help of a match fixing former pro causes the daughter of a tennis dynasty to question her career, she’s torn between the man she never trusted and the family loyalty she never doubted


    1. Love that she’s the daughter of a tennis dynasty!

      Let’s see… I think the biggest suggestion I have is to get more clear and specific. There’s a bit of vagueness here, especially in her choice. Is the “man she never trusted” the match-fixing tennis pro, or someone else? If she never trusted this guy, what’s drawing her to him to make it a hard choice? (Romance? Other?) You don’t necessarily need to answer those exact questions, but after an interesting setup in the first half I’m left unclear on what exactly the conflict is and what’s at stake. I think making the conflict clear and conveying the pressure/stakes involved is more important than the neat turn of phrase you use at the end.

      I hope that’s helpful! Good luck!


  4. I’d love a critique of the pitch for my mystery novel, MISSING PERSON:

    Kathleen was the last person to see the family whose car she hit. With the trail leading to her, she must find them, or she’ll take the fall for their disappearance – and possibly their murder.

    Thank you!


    1. Ooh, intriguing!

      I think my biggest suggestion would be to tell us more about Kathleen and give us more of a sense of her personal arc. From this pitch, we know the situation she’s in and what she has at stake externally, but we don’t know anything about her at all other than her name, and we have no idea what the emotional stakes are.

      I hope that’s helpful! Good luck!


      1. If you have time for a followup question (if not, no worries) – what part of my pitch would you advise *removing*? Every pitch critique has told me what I should add, but with just 35 words to work with, something has to give…


      2. Follow up question is fine! I think you can totally tighten the language… “Kathleen must find the family whose car she hit, or she’ll take the fall for their disappearance… and possibly their murder,” for instance, gets across the key points from your current pitch with 14 words to spare. If you can compact it to something like “their presumed murder” instead of “their disappearance…and possibly their murder” without misrepresenting the story, that’ll buy you another few words, too.

        Hope that helps! Good luck!


  5. For 17-year-old artist Tanner a year teaching abroad was a godsend. But when civil war erupts, Tanner’s and his British-Indian boyfriends lives are threatened All rules go out the window. including what’s right and wrong.

    Option C please!


    1. Sounds like an interesting setup! And I love to see LGBT main characters. 🙂

      I think the big thing you need is more specificity. Abroad where? (And where’s Tanner from originally? Why was it a godsend?) Is this current day, future, historical, or alt history? (That may be partially answered by the genre, but if it’s not current day we need specifics.) The setting seems like it should be particularly important to this novel, so conveying that setting is key.

      Also, what’s threatening their lives? (Avoid passive voice!) If it’s just general wartime hazards, you could cut words and avoid passive by saying “But when civil war endangers Tanner and his British-Indian boyfriend…” or something like that.

      And finally and perhaps most important, the last 2 sentences are way too vague. Give us a specific conflict/dilemma with specific stakes. We have no idea whether we’re talking “Tanner must decide whether to bribe a customs official to get them both out of the country” or “Tanner murders a guy to protect his boyfriend and now they’re both on the run with a briefcase of stolen state secrets” or “Tanner can escape certain death by carpet bombing only if he’s willing to trust dangerous rebel connections and leave his boyfriend behind to die,” or what. Give us something specific that will have us dying to know what happens while also making the conflict and stakes clear!

      I hope that’s helpful. Good luck!


      1. Thanks so much! How does this sound?

        When civil war erupts in a newly independent European country, 17-year-old American volunteer Tanner must help infiltrate the American Embassy if he wants even a chance at saving his and his British-Indian boyfriend’s life.

        Liked by 1 person

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