...every author needs to be able to summarize his or her book in as little as five words, but no more than three sentences (or so). In other words, you need to capture an agent's, editor's, or reader's attention quickly.
She then went on to say that she was going to pick from the pitches submitted and post a critique of as many as she could. Well, she's still going, and has critiqued almost a hundred pitches so far! I really appreciate her willingness to keep doing this, because what helped me most when reading through was the sheer volume. If I see so many clear examples of what works and what doesn't, eventually it sinks in.
Some commenters have remarked that the exercise has really helped them think clearly about their plot, and to realize where it has weak points. I can relate! After reading all those pitches, of course I had to try my hand at one for my current WIP. It really served to reinforce the structure problems that I already thought it had. I think this will be a useful exercise to do *before* I start the next story.
So here's what I picked up from reading all those pitch critiques:
1. Convey the tone of the book. Don't stand back and narrate from a distance. Almost without fail, Jessica really liked pitches that were able to convey tone.When I list those points out like that, they sound just like every other essay on pitch or query writing that I've read. I encourage you to take a look at BookEnds' actual critiques to see these principles in action.
2. Don't include backstory. Start with the inciting event. What kicks the story off?
3. Make sure you communicate the conflict. A lot of pitches she said were interesting, but she just couldn't see what the conflict was.
4. Don't ignore the pitch. Or query letter, for that matter. You may have spent years perfecting the actual manuscript but if you don't spend enough time perfecting those, the first thing the agent will see, then you're screwed.