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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: pitch blurbs, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 24 of 24
1. 68 Queries In 60 Minutes

STATUS: Auction day tomorrow.  Always fun.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? HOT STUFF by Donna Summer

I can't help but think of the movie The Full Monty whenever this song pops up on the iPod. Always good for a smile.

I must admit that I've been a little behind on query reading so Sunday evening, I sat down to power through them. You are reading the above title correctly. I averaged less than 60 seconds for each query read.

If your pitch wasn't, well, pitch perfect, I was hitting the pass button.

Here's something agents hardly ever reveal (and this of course could only apply to me so take it with a grain of salt) but I honestly believe that your chances of grabbing an agent's attention decreases in the warm summer months.

Quite frankly, I'd rather be outdoors doing something fun rather than reading. I feel the exact opposite in winter months. I'm happy staying home and catching up. Consequently, if I were to look at my client list, I probably took on more clients during the winter months than I do during the summer.

Not a hard and fast rule by any means but something to keep in mind.

So Sunday I'm reading 68 queries. I actually only asked for sample pages for 10 of those queries. You'd be right to think that the ratio was small. So what was up?

Here's what I saw:
1) At least 10 YA dystopian queries where I didn't think the concept felt original enough for what is a crowded market.

2) 5 queries for literary novels that said there was a commercial bent but I wasn't seeing it in the query lettr. They sounded too literary for what I can take on and be successful with.

3) Several queries from writers that we had passed on but they had revised and wanted to know if we would read again. Right now I'm too pressed for time to give something a second read so I passed.

4) Several authors looking for new representation but I didn't think we'd be a good fit given what they were currently writing and what has been appealing to me as of late.

5) Several middle grade novels that the queries themselves sounded too didactic. I didn't take a chance to read the sample pages fearing the same.

6) Several steampunk fantasies that obviously pay homage to Gail Carriger but sounded a bit too romance or derivative for what I'd take on considering I rep Gail Carriger.

7) Lots of epic fantasy queries from a previous blog post where I mentioned that editors were more open to seeing these stories as of late. But it's hard. Most of these queries were a bit too generic and you really have to make your fantasy pitch stand out. I particularly liked the one where the writer instructs me it's not the "typical fantasy" as this one has character development. Like that's the original element. Trust me, I've read a lot of epic fantasy and all the terrific ones have great original concepts and excellent character development.  You are going to need both.

Then of course there were the 10 queries I asked sample pages for.

One query startled a laugh out of me. That got a request. Another was a really charming middle grade novel. The query was inventive, well written, and charming in and of itself. I had to ask for sample pages. The writer left me no choice.

I only have August and September before the weather turns cool again so I'm looking for reasons to say NO. Come first snowfall, I'll probably be looking for reasons to say YES.

0 Comments on 68 Queries In 60 Minutes as of 1/1/1900
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2. A Pitch Is A Pitch Is A Pitch - A Query Is A Query Is A Query

STATUS: Working though 245 emails in the inbox. You can't hide from me!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now?  DON'T STOP by Foster The People

An yet, writers always have some confusion on what is the difference between a pitch and a query. Seems like a good topic to tackle (as I can already see a myriad list of sub-questions within this topic).

Let's start with the basics.

A query is a professional business letter that introduces your work to an agent or editor. These days, this letter is sent by email rather than snail mail. In the query letter, you will have something called a pitch paragraph. The query letter will also contain an introduction and the author's bio or credentials. It will be one-page long.

A pitch is the verbal delivery of the main pitch paragraph from your query letter. In other words, you need to have a quick way to sum up the opening plot catalyst of your novel in a sentence or two while talking to someone. That way your audience gets a clear and immediate gist of what your novel is about.

Here's a great example from a novel I just sold by David Ramirez called MINCEMEAT. It's a good example because in this instance, I actually did something unique. I pulled out the pitch from the main pitch paragraph. I don't always do that but I did so in this instance. Also, when I was in New York in May, I verbally PITCHED this work to editors using the one sentence pitch highlighted in pink.

Here's my submit letter to editors--which in essence is the agent's QUERY letter to editors (to draw a comparison to what writers are doing when they approach agents):

Hello XXX,
It's pretty rare that I send an email about a manuscript submission that I can sum up in a one sentence pitch. Trust me, I tend to be wordier than that!

But here it is:
All that is left of humanity is on a thousand-year journey to a new home aboard one ship, The Noah, and this ship is carrying a dangerous serial killer.

Intrigued? I hope so. At its heart, the concept for this SF novel MINCEMEAT by David Ramirez is quite simple but what unfolds is layer after layer of complexity.

Since most editors prefer I don't leave it at one sentence, here's a little bit more about the manuscript:

Priss Dempsey is a City Planning Administrator on the Noah, a vessel carrying the last survivors of Earth on a thousand-year journey to a new home.  She is equal parts psychic, economist, hacker and bureaucrat, a vital part of the mission, but her life seems to lose purpose after she experiences Breeding Duty.  Kept asleep through the impregnation and birthing that all women are obligated to undergo, she still feels a lost connection to the child she will never be permitted to know.

Policeman Leonard Barrens approaches her with a request for hacking support in the unofficial investigation of his mentor's violent death. Only Barrens knows that a crime has been committed because he came across the mutilated remains before Information Security could cover it up. To everyone else, the missing man was merely "Retired," nothing unusual.

Their investigation takes them through the lost dataspaces in the Nth Web and deep into the uninhabited regions of the ship, where they discover that the answer may not be as simple as a Mincemeat Killer after all. And what they do with that answer will determine the fate of all humanity.


16 Comments on A Pitch Is A Pitch Is A Pitch - A Query Is A Query Is A Query, last added: 7/25/2012
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3. Fridays With Agent Kristin: Episode 6 - Pitch versus The Synopsis

STATUS: On plane in just a few hours to head to Italy. There might not be much blogging next week.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? YELLOW by Coldplay

Scheduling this post so hope it works correctly!

I'm going to lay to rest, once and for all, the difference between a pitch and a synopsis.

Okay, that's a little grandiose but you get the picture.


11 Comments on Fridays With Agent Kristin: Episode 6 - Pitch versus The Synopsis, last added: 3/17/2012
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4. Pub Rants University Begins!

STATUS: In glorious Italy. Such yummy food.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? MARLENE ON THE WALL BY Suzanne Vega

If you are an NLA eNewsletter subscriber, you got the skinny early at the beginning of the month and first dibs on the workshop spots. Now I'm giving my blog readers a chance to register.

In 2012, I have six conferences lined up already. I can hardly believe it myself! And at these conferences, I'm schedule to give my forever popular query pitch workshop and the infamous Agent Reads The Slush Pile workshop where I graciously rip to bits the opening pages of manuscripts. Writers just love this one, which convinces me that you folks are gluttons for punishment.

And I imagine that over the years, one or two of my blog readers have longed to attend one of these workshops but have never had the opportunity.

Well, if that person is you, then listen up. On March 29, 2012, I'm launching Pub Rants University and will be offering our first online video webinar called Goodbye Slush Pile! The Secret of How to Write The Perfect Query Letter Pitch Paragraph for Your Novel.

Try and say that three times fast…

This is a video webinar, not just audio, so you'll get a chance to see my lovely mug for a whole 90 minutes. Not to mention, you'll even be able to ask questions during the workshop. It's like Fridays With Kristin for a whole 90 minutes. On second thought, I'm not sure I can put up with myself for that long…

But if you are interested, here's what you'll learn.

-How to structure your query letter
-How to identify your plot catalyst
-How to boil 300-plus pages of a novel into one pithy pitch paragraph
-The 4 main approaches to building your pitch paragraph around the plot catalyst
-Real examples of what works and why
-Real examples of what doesn't work and why
-Submit of your first draft tag line

Click Here to find out more details and to register. As I don't want the workshop to be too big and unwieldy, the number of attendees is limited so keep that in mind!

5 Comments on Pub Rants University Begins!, last added: 3/20/2012
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5. Fridays With Agent Kristin: Episode 7 - What is A Plot Catalyst?

STATUS: TGIF! I actually had a great work week. Yes, I  need to read some stuff over the weekend but I'm feeling almost caught up. This means I'm forgetting something huge I'm sure.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? YELLOW by Coldplay

Okay, so I taped this segment a couple of weeks ago. I'm particularly fond of how I start with "good morning."

Oh well, the content is still good.

In honor of the first video webinar I did (which tackled how to craft the query letter pitch paragraph in your novel), I thought I'd give some tips for those who couldn't attend.

When I teach writers how to craft the perfect pitch paragraph for their query letters, it all starts with the plot catalyst.

So what exactly is it? I answer that question in today's vlog. Enjoy!

19 Comments on Fridays With Agent Kristin: Episode 7 - What is A Plot Catalyst?, last added: 5/7/2012
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6. A Quick Look At Tag lines

STATUS: Come on rain! Don't just be cloudy and not give it up. Pour gosh darn it!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? PUMP IT UP by Elvis Costello

I'm getting ready for tonight's workshop so I'm reviewing all the tag lines submitted by the workshop attendees. I asked all participants to submit one sentence as a baseline. So we can do a before and after during the workshop--which is often fun to see.

In other words, I don't expect everyone to have nailed that tag line. It's often hard to nail your plot catalyst in one sentence--especially if you've never really done it before. Hence the workshop.

But in reading them in prep, I can give my blog readers a bit of insight into what I think these attendees are struggling with. In the workshop, I'm going to clearly explain how to nail a plot catalyst tag line and then how to build your query pitch around that--using three different approaches.

Problem 1: The writer is trying to summarize the novel in the tag line.

Wrong use for it. You just want to nail your plot catalyst. But great, we'll talk about it tonight.

Problem 2: The writer is relying on reader's previous knowledge of a story or fairytale.

Not a bad starting point but it's not going to be quite enough to carry the cornerstone of your pitch. Will work on that tonight.

Problem 3: The writer highlights two necessary elements of the story but alas, in the tag line, they don't have a relation or a cause and effect so mentioning both doesn't quite make sense.

In other words, one doesn't necessitate the other. I'll just need to point that out and I think this writer will get it.

And there's still time to sign up if you want to join us! Just click here. I'll be getting the tag lines soon for any day registers. However, we are going to close the class in an hour or two so if you want to join in, don't delay.

5 Comments on A Quick Look At Tag lines, last added: 6/30/2012
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7. Janice Hardy's Query Pitch Blurb

STATUS: I spent most of today on the phone. Some days are just like that. Now that it’s after 4, I’m going to now tackle my TO DO list.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TAINTED LOVE by Soft Cell

This morning I realized it’s been a while since I spotlighted a client’s query. I always find it interesting to talk about what caught my interest and hopefully it’s a good learning tool for blog readers as you revise your own query letters.

Today’s story is a little different as Janice didn’t query me by email per se. I actually met Janice at the Surrey International Writers Conference that is held in Vancouver, British Columbia. And no, Janice is not Canadian; she actually hails from Georgia. She just happened to be at the conference.

She had signed up for a 10-minute pitch session with me so she “queried” me via a verbal one-on-one pitch.

I have to say, that the first thing that caught my interest was the title: THE PAIN MERCHANTS. What’s even more interesting is that the publisher ended up not going with this title. See the cover I’ve included below. Go figure. I found the title immediately interesting and I knew that I wanted to read the sample pages she was going to submit after the conference. In fact, I emailed Sara to be on the lookout for them.

For some reason, I don’t have the original letter she sent with the sample pages but I did save her pitch paragraph from that letter. Since that’s the crucial part, I’m including it here. Tomorrow I’ll share the letter I sent to editors when I submitted this work.

From Janice’s cover letter:
Seventeen-year-old Nya couldn’t find good luck in an empty pail. As one of the city’s many orphans, she survives on odd jobs and optimism — finding both in short supply in a city crippled by a failed war for independence. Then a bungled egg theft, a stupid act of compassion and boys unable to keep their mouths shut, expose her secret to the two most powerful groups in Geveg: the pain merchants and the Healer’s League. They discover Nya is a Taker, a healer who can pull pain and injury from others. Trouble is, unlike normal Takers she can’t dump that pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store it. All she can do is shift it from person to person, a so far useless skill that’s never once paid for her breakfast.

When an accident floods the city with injured and Takers start disappearing from the Healer’s League, Nya’s talent is suddenly in demand. But what she’s asked to do with her healing ability feels as wrong as fish with feet. That is, until her sister Tali goes missing — then walking fish don’t sound so bad after all. Because finding Tali means taking on the League, and to do something that stupid she’ll need what only her “useless skill” can get her. As her papa used to say, principles are a bargain at any price, but how many will Nya have to sell to get Tali back alive?

Janice’s pitch blurb annotated:
Seventeen-year-old Nya couldn’t find good luck in an empty pail. As one of the city’s many orphans, she survives on odd jobs and optimism — finding both in short supply in a city crippled by a failed war for independence. KN: I’m caught by Janice’s voice in the opening lines. “Couldn’t find good luck in an empty pail” and “surviving on optimism.” I’m looking forward to reading on. Then a bungled egg theft, a stupid act of compassion and boys unable to keep their mouths shut, expose her secret to the two most powerful groups in Geveg: the pain merchants and the Healer’s League. KN: I knew I was right to ask for sample pages. There is the contrast between the theft and the act of compassion that makes me interested in this character. Not to mention had the “uh-oh” moment that a secret revealed to powerful people can only be trouble. They discover Nya is a Taker, a healer who can pull pain and injury from others. Trouble is, unlike normal Takers she can’t dump that pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store it. All she can do is shift it from person to person, a so far useless skill that’s never once paid for her breakfast. KN: Here I have to understand the world and Nya’s power so Janice explains. But then she hints at the issue. This is a “useless skill” that I’m now assuming is not going to be considered useless by these powerful people. Intriguing.

When an accident floods the city with injured and Takers start disappearing from the Healer’s League, Nya’s talent is suddenly in demand. But what she’s asked to do with her healing ability feels as wrong as fish with feet. KN: Plot catalyst that starts the story. I don’t know what is as wrong as fish feet but I still love the voice and I’m thinking the story is going to tell me if I start reading. Also, That is, until her sister Tali goes missing — then walking fish don’t sound so bad after all. KN: Ah, this situation is going to put our character in a compromising situation. Now her sister is at stake. What is she willing to do? Good set up of conflict. Because finding Tali means taking on the League, and to do something that stupid she’ll need what only her “useless skill” can get her. KN: I have to read this now! As her papa used to say, principles are a bargain at any price, but how many will Nya have to sell to get Tali back alive?
KN: This last line just nailed it for me. I like stories where the character might have to grapple with moral ambiguity.

29 Comments on Janice Hardy's Query Pitch Blurb, last added: 4/10/2009
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8. Editor Letter For The Pain Merchants

STATUS: Just survived my first crushing London rush hour Tube commute on the Piccadilly line. Talk about being up close and personal with my UK compatriots…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WAKE UP CALL by Maroon 5

I’m having lunch all week with different UK editors—some in the children’s world and some in the adult world. I’ll start blogging about any interesting tidbits I discover tomorrow. I didn’t want there to be too much distance between when I discussed Janice’s original query and the letter I submitted to Donna. We had actually talked about this project a month or two before I submitted it. If memory serves, I was sitting at Donna’s table at Book Expo when I first pitched her this project.

As you can see from my letter below, I always like to pull out what is the most interesting facet to me. How I think this work is different from the multitude of fantasy titles already in existence. For this novel, it’s grappling with the question of whether the ends justifies the means that really stands out for me. So often, middle grade doesn’t focus on that gray area much and I think it’s handled beautifully here.

Also notice that I pulled in some pieces from Janice’s original pitch blurb—especially sentences that I thought captured the tone/voice of the story.

Hello Donna,

As promised, I’m finally submitting to you THE PAIN MERCHANTS by Janice Hardy. What I love most is the ethical question at the core of this novel. At the most basic level, this novel is about whether the ends justify the means and the main character Nya is more than willing to sacrifice a principle or two in order to save her sister.

But then where does one draw the line? Nya is already pushing the boundaries of what could be considered the “gray” area between right and wrong. Is it possible to slide across that line and down a path that will have too many consequences to allow a return to goodness?

That’s at the heart of this children’s fantasy. Here’s a peek at the storyline:

Fifteen-year-old Nya is one of Geveg’s many orphans; she survives on odd jobs and optimism—finding both in short supply in a city crippled by a failed war for independence. Then a bungled egg theft, a stupid act of compassion, and two eyewitnesses unable to keep their mouths shut expose her secret to the two most powerful groups in city: the pain merchants and the Healer’s League. They discover Nya is a Taker, a healer who can pull pain and injury from others. Trouble is, unlike her sister Tali and the other normal Takers who become league apprentices, she can’t dump that pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store it. All she can do is shift it from person-to-person, a useless skill that’s kept her out of the league and has never once paid for her breakfast.

When a brutal ferry accident floods the city with injured and the already overwhelmed Takers start disappearing from the Healer’s League, Nya’s talent is suddenly in demand. But what she’s asked to do with her healing ability is beyond wrong and she refuses until her sister Tali goes missing. Finding her sister means taking on the League and to do something that stupid, she’ll need what only her “useless skill” can get her. As her papa used to say, principles are a bargain at any price, but how many will Nya have to sell to get Tali back alive?

The author Janice Hardy is a member of the Georgia Writer's Association and is active in several workshops and critique groups. Her fiction has appeared in Dimensions (A local lifestyle magazine), Predictions (a local genre magazine) and Air Currents (The In-flight magazine for Continental Connection). She’s also an instructor with Writer’s Online Workshops—teaching Essentials of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing and Fundamentals of Fiction. Besides being a writer, she also has seventeen years of experience as an editor. Currently, she’s the editor of The Bahama Out Islands Destination Guide, and works closely with editors and authors on a variety of travel and lifestyle publications.


All Best

15 Comments on Editor Letter For The Pain Merchants, last added: 4/17/2009
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9. Megan Crewe’s Query Letter

STATUS: As you can imagine, since I’ve been out of the office pretty much since December 18, I’m a little behind on work. Sorry for the blog lapse.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DECEMBER, 1963 (OH WHAT A NIGHT) by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

As we launch the new year, I imagine that many a blog reader is getting back into the query game. What better time than to tackle another successful client’s original query and what caught my interest.

Maybe it will shed a little light on how you can tackle your own query letter as you jump into your agent search.

Next up is Megan Crewe—a lovely Canadian writer whose debut GIVE UP THE GHOST hit shelves last fall.

In fun news, Holt Children’s has been doing some great co-op in Barnes & Noble. I shot this pic while on holiday. Funny enough, you can see two of my authors prominently displayed on the main shelf in the YA section of BN. Gotta love that.

But this entry is really about Megan’s debut—a YA with a really different paranormal element that is worth picking up. In my mind, not every YA needs to be an angsty romance. I really enjoy stories that delve into the darker side of being a teen and learning that revenge never can take the place of human compassion—which is what our narrator comes to understand in GIVE UP THE GHOST.

I have to say that Megan’s query immediately caught my attention as she had a whole different take on utilizing ghosts that I’ve never seen before. Besides, I like complex narrators. It’s not what is hitting the NYT list right now but I still find these stories super compelling.

Original query without annotation:

Dear Ms. Nelson:

I am seeking representation for my completed 62,000 word young adult novel, IN MEMORY OF.

Sixteen-year-old Cass McKenna would take the company of the dead over the living any day. Unlike her high school classmates, the dead don't lie or judge, and they're way less scary than Danielle, the best-bud-turned-backstabber who kicked Cass to the bottom of the social ladder in seventh grade. Since then, Cass has styled herself as an avenger. Using the secrets her ghostly friends stumble across, she exposes her fellow students' deceits and knocks the poseurs down a peg.

When Tim Reed, the student council V.P., asks Cass to chat with his recently-deceased mom, her instinct is to laugh in his face. But Tim's part of Danielle's crowd. He can give Cass dirt the dead don't know. Intent on revenge, Cass offers to trade her spirit-detecting skills for his information. She isn't counting on chasing a ghost who would rather hide than speak to her, facing the explosive intervention of an angry student, or discovering that Tim's actually an okay guy. Then Tim sinks into a suicidal depression, and Cass has to choose: run back to the safety of the dead, or risk everything to stop Tim from becoming

26 Comments on Megan Crewe’s Query Letter, last added: 1/15/2010
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10. Gail Carriger’s Query Letter

STATUS: Only 341 emails in the inbox and counting…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? POEMS, PRAYERS, & PROMISES by John Denver

For this entry, I thought I would do a different spin on annotating the query letter. Gail had a unique situation when she sent me her email. She already had an editor interested in the novel, which rather give her letter a leg up.

She contacted me specifically because several years prior, I had looked at an earlier novel from her. I hadn’t offered rep but I had given her a revision letter. She ended up scrapping that novel altogether but she kept my letter and decided I was the first agent she would contact with this editor interest.

So here’s her letter in the original form.

Dear Ms. Nelson:
XXXX editor is interested in publishing my 81,000 word paranormal novel, SOULLESS, and I am seeking representation. It is a romantic romp through the streets of Victorian London, from high society to the steam punk laboratories of Frankenstein-like scientists.

Alexia Tarabotti was born without a soul. This affliction could be considered a good thing, for in England those with too much soul can be turned into vampires, werewolves, or ghosts. Unfortunately, when unregistered vampires start to mysteriously appear in London, everyone thinks she's to blame, including the Queen's official investigator, Lord Maccon. In such a situation, what's a young lady to do but grab her parasol and find out what's really going on? Of course Lord Maccon might object, but Alexia doesn't give a fig for the opinion of a werewolf, or does she?

My previous professional sales include various shorts stories and two mid-grade readers through Harcourt Education. I can be reached by email at XXXXX or phone at XXXX if you would like to see the manuscript. I understand you are very busy, and am grateful for your time and attention.

Gail Carriger

Now I thought I would share the pitch blurb I created when I contacted editors about the project.

When avowed spinster Miss Alexia Tarabotti is attacked by a vampire at a private ball, she’s simply appalled. No vampire worth his salt would ever jeopardize his rank in society by attacking her so vulgarly in a public place. Not to mention, every vampire knows that she's soulless and therefore contact with her will negate all supernatural ability. Poof! No more immortality. Vampires know to avoid her like the plague.

Which means that this is no society vampire and since no vampires can be made without the proper paperwork, this vampire is a rogue. No simpering miss, Alexia is delighted to try to find out the particulars but she just may get more than she bargained for.

If the author Jane Austen were to have written a vampire novel during her lifetime, SOULLESS would have been it.

Instead of my doing all the work, I’m going to let you folks take first shot at it.

What’s different about these two pitches?

What’s similar?

In looking at both in retrospect, I think each have different strengths. What do you like from Gail’s pitch that didn’t make it into mine and maybe should have? Vice Versa?

Give me your thoughts and I’ll talk more about this tomorrow.

39 Comments on Gail Carriger’s Query Letter, last added: 1/15/2010 Display Comments Add a Comment
11. Gail Carriger’s Query Letter—Part II

STATUS: Uh, I have 310 emails in my inbox and I handled at least 50 today. More came in. Oh boy.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? OPERATOR by Jim Croce
(listening to some of Dad’s favs)

One of the reasons why I approached this query letter a little differently than previous discussions was to show blog readers that a variety of approaches in a pitch blurb can work.

There isn’t just one way to write that paragraph and have it work. I know y’all want the silver bullet that will assure your query letter the attention it deserves but as you can see from the list of comments left on yesterday’s entry, readers had different opinions on which one worked best for them.

And in actuality, both are good, strong pitches—but in different ways. So let me talk about that.

When I wrote my pitch paragraph, I remember that I didn’t have Gail’s original query handy. She resent it to me later so that I could have it on file. Since time was of the essence for the submission, I went ahead and created my paragraph from scratch.

Usually I take the author’s original query pitch as the genesis—the jumping off point for creating my pitch. That way I’m doing a blending of the author’s tone and approach with my own. I didn’t have that for this letter and I wanted to point that out.

For me, I wish I had the line “It is a romantic romp through the streets of Victorian London, from high society to the steam punk laboratories of Frankenstein-like scientists” for my letter. I think it’s the perfect sentence to establish the tone.

Alas… I didn’t so I went to my fall back (which a commenter pointed out) which was to describe the inciting incident that starts the novel. This also has the added benefit of allowing me to describe the world without having to do a lot of telling.

“When avowed spinster Miss Alexia Tarabotti is attacked by a vampire at a private ball, she’s simply appalled. No vampire worth his salt would ever jeopardize his rank in society by attacking her so vulgarly in a public place.”

Without my saying so, the reader gets immediately that vampires are accepted and simply a part of the society in this world. An attack at a ball would be an oddity. See what I’m doing here?

Then I jump into back story because the key to understanding this novel is Alexia’s unique character element of being soulless.

“Not to mention, every vampire knows that she's soulless and therefore contact with her will negate all supernatural ability. Poof! No more immortality. Vampires know to avoid her like the plague.”

This allows me to highlight even more why this vampire attack is strange.

Now in Gail’s query, she starts with Alexia’s soulless state—which also works.

“Alexia Tarabotti was born without a soul. This affliction could be considered a good thing, for in England those with too much soul can be turned into vampires, werewolves, or ghosts.”

She’s setting up how the world works. Then she hits on the conflict.

“Unfortunately, when unregistered vampires start to mysteriously appear in London, everyone thinks she's to blame, including the Queen's official investigator, Lord Maccon.”

Ah, folks think Alexia is responsible. That’s a problem. Notice that Gail didn’t really explain why Alexia’s soulless state is an issue (because it negates the supernatural). I, however, did in my pitch because I thought that info would be key to understanding the world. On the flip side, I didn’t mention in my pitch that Alexia is presumed to be to blame (and looking back, I should have).

Now Gail tackles the light tone and sets up for some romantic

15 Comments on Gail Carriger’s Query Letter—Part II, last added: 1/19/2010
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12. Kristin Goes Webinar

STATUS: It’s really time to go home now…

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? IS SHE REALLY GOING OUT WITH HIM? by Joe Jackson

Should be interesting.

Sometimes I wonder how I get roped into these things! Chuck Sambuchino from Writers Digest has been bugging me for a while to come and teach a webinar for them.

I haven’t really been tempted until now. What changes is that I feel an overwhelming need to help out writers in the SF&F field. I know I’ve mentioned this before on my blog but the SF&F community has wonderful Cons that cater to fans more than to the business side of publishing. In consequence, often the writers in the SF&F realm are a little at loose ends on how to do things like write good query letter pitch blurbs for their SF&F novels. Seriously, the queries we get for this genre tend to be the weakest we see.

This is a problem we NEVER have in the romance field as RWA probably goes the other extreme in terms of educating writers!

Next month is MileCon here in Denver and sure enough, we proposed some business-y stuff and not much came of it.

So then Chuck touched base and I thought, here’s an opportunity…. Taught by yours truly.

And folks, unlike my blog, this webinar is not free—as it’s through Writers Digest but if you are interested, here are the deets. Click here for more info and to sign up.

How to Write and Sell Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

This is an intensive workshop on the “how-to” business side of getting your science fiction and fantasy (SF&F) writing published, whether for teens or adults.

We here at Nelson Literary Agency are actively looking to expand our roster of science fiction & fantasy (young adult and adult fiction) authors but frankly, the queries we receive in this genre could use some help. Our agency sees a ton of SF&F queries, for both YA and adult novels, and 90% of them sound completely generic. We can teach you how to make your novel stand out.

Each registration comes with access to the archived version of the program and the materials for 1 year.

About the Critique & How it works
After the session, all registrants can submit their revised pitch paragraph (no more than 12 sentences) for a quick critique by Kristin Nelson. Who knows, you might even get a request for sample pages out of it.

What you’ll learn:

• How to compose your query: The top 10 reasons why most SF&F query letters fail
• How NOT to start your story: The top 10 things that shouldn’t open an SF&F novel
• What agents and editors want: What agents and editors look for in terms of pitch, writing, and book premise
• How to pitch: How to nail the story’s hook, and nail the elements of your world-building in the short pitch paragraph

Who should attend?

• SF&F fans who are interested in writing a novel.
• SF&F Writers who want to improve their pitches and hooks
• SF&F Writers who are actively querying agents and publishers with their science fiction or fantasy novel.

23 Comments on Kristin Goes Webinar, last added: 9/27/2010
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13. After 200 Webinar Pitch Critiques...

STATUS: ! I think that exclamation point says it all.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? ISN’T IT ROMANTIC by Rod Stewart

I can unequivocally give my blog readers the #1 culprit of why pitch paragraphs in adult or children’s SF&F query letters miss.

Drumroll please….

Convoluted plot that can’t be followed in the pitch paragraph.

Interestingly enough, in the presentation itself, I gave the missing plot catalyst as the# 1 reason for why we pass. Convoluted description of the plot was #3. I might have to revise that!

Post webinar, most participants got the concept of “inciting incident” or main plot catalyst pretty clearly; it was building the rest of the pitch paragraph that proved tough. I think everyone who submitted a pitch to be critiqued got a sense of just how hard it is to create a good one.

A bit of advice? Your pitch is not something you want to go it alone on. You need feedback and from a variety of sources. If you learn nothing else from that session, take that tidbit away with you.

And because I’m a nice person, I’m going to share my Top 10 list for blog reading edification.


Reason 10: Generic descriptors of the story

Reason 9: Overkill on World Building details and not enough about the story itself.

Reason 8: Explaining that unlike already published SF&F novels, your work has character development

Reason 7: Popular trends (such as Vampires, Werewolves, or Zombies) with no unique take clearly spelled out in pitch

Reason 6: No mention of or insight into the characters who will be driving the story

Reason 5: The manuscript is 250,000 words (or more!) and this is unpublished, debut author

Reason 4: The work is called SF&F but it sounds more like a mystery or thriller or something else.

Reason 3: Convoluted Plot that I can’t follow in the pitch paragraph

Reason 2: SF&F stereotypical archetypes as the “hook”
--the mysterious object
--the unexpected birthright
--the quest
--the villain that has risen again
--exiled to another planet
--mayhem on spaceship to new planet
--Androids with heart of gold
--The main character as the key to saving the world or species
--the just discovered talisman

Reason 1: No hook—or mention of a plot catalyst that is new or original in this genre

35 Comments on After 200 Webinar Pitch Critiques..., last added: 10/28/2010
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14. After 200 Webinar Pitches…Take 2

STATUS: Heading out early to meet with tax accountant.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THE SWEETEST TABOO by Sade

Sara was in the office today so we put our heads together on a couple of other tidbits of feedback we gleaned from the all the pitch critiques we did.

Here are a couple of other culprits we discovered while critiquing that would have made us pass had we not being doing that editorial input.

1) Too much emphasis on the world building without giving equal weight or emphasis to the story and the characters in it.

2) Mechanics of the writing was unpolished—as in there were syntax and obvious grammar errors within the pitch itself.

3) Vague descriptions such as: “suddenly a new discovery threatens everything INSERT CHARACTER NAME holds dear.” The problem is that such grand but vague statements don’t tell the reader anything. It’s like saying “this restaurant serves food.”

4) We couldn’t understand the world because the description was unclear. (By the way, we debated whether this fits under “convoluted plot” of yesterday’s entry but we don’t think so it. It feels separate.) You have to choose the right details about your world in the pitch because you can’t explain everything. You can only highlight an element or two that will stand out as unique about the world.

5) Writers who made up a name for a creature or an element but didn’t include any explanation of what it was in the pitch so it didn’t have context. This leads to confusion.

That’s all she wrote folks.

More Sade music on iLike

18 Comments on After 200 Webinar Pitches…Take 2, last added: 10/30/2010
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15. Plot Catalysts For Your Pitch Paragraph

STATUS: I’m leaving for Chicago today so it was a little frantic trying to get ready to leave town again. Sorry for not blogging yesterday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHERE ARE YOU GOING by Dave Matthews Band

I’m going to take a stab at sharing the “hands-on” exercise with you online. Obviously this is a lot easier to do while giving the presentation in person but what the heck. Let’s see how well it translates.

So here is the first step in identifying the plot catalyst that starts the story forward so you can identify it for yourself in your own novel.

What’s interesting is that the first step is something that actually can’t be done during the presentation itself so all you blog readers will have a leg up on this.

Before writing your pitch paragraph for your query letter, I strongly recommend that you take the time to visit your local bookstore or library in order to peruse the shelves for recently published novels that are in your genre and in the same vein as your story. In other words, if you write historical romance, go and read the back cover copy of historical romances in your time setting. If you write epic fantasy, go and look at epic fantasy back cover copy, etc. If you write contemporary literary fiction, pull out some of the latest offerings in that realm.

I think you get the picture.

But here’s the next step. I want you to read the back cover copy. Get a feel for it. Then open the book and read the first 30 to 50 pages. Then go back to the cover copy. Is there a plot aspect that is highlighted in that copy that occurred within the first 50 pages? What was it? Did you notice it while you were reading?

Let’s say you write non-epic fun fantasy and you are shaping your query letter pitch blurb so you head to the bookstore and pick up Lisa Shearin’s MAGIC LOST, TROUBLE FOUND. If you did, here is what you would read in the back cover copy:

My name is Raine Benares. I’m a seeker. The people who hire me are usually happy when I find things. But some things are better left unfound…

Raine is a sorceress of moderate powers, from an extended family of smugglers and thieves. With a mix of street smarts and magic spells, she can usually take care of herself. But when her friend Quentin, a not-quite-reformed thief, steals an amulet from the home of a powerful necromancer, Raine find herself wrapped up in more trouble than she cares for. She likes attention as much as the next girl, but having an army of militant goblins hunting her down is not her idea of a good time. The amulet they’re after holds limitless power, derived from an ancient, soul-stealing stone. And when Raine takes possession of the item, it takes possession of her.

Now her moderate powers are increasing beyond anything she could imagine—but is the resumé enhancement worth her soul?

In this cover copy, can you spot the plot catalyst?

It starts in the third sentence. Her friend Quentin has stolen an amulet, one of limitless power (hey it’s fantasy!). Once Raine takes possession of it, she’s in a heap of trouble—especially because it’s enhancing her powers. She is becoming something other than your average seeker making a living.

If you read MAGIC LOST, Raine coming into possession of the amulet does indeed happen within the first 30 pages of the novel.

Now the sequel from Ace, ARMED & MAGICAL, is hitting shelves this week. Because it’s a sequel, the cover copy reads just a tad differently:

My name is Raine Benares. Until last week I was a seeker—a finder of things lost and people missing. Now I’m psychic roommates with the Saghred, an ancient stone with cataclysmic powers. Just me, the stone, and all the souls it’s ingested over the centuries. Crowded doesn’t even begin to describe it...

All Raine wants is her life back—which means getting rid of the stone and the power it possesses. To sort things out, she heads for the Isle of Mid, home to the most prestigious sorcery school, as well as the Conclave, the governing body for all magic users. It’s also home to power-grubbing mages who want Raine dead and goblins who see her as a thief. As if that’s not enough, Mid’s best student spellsingers are disappearing left and right, and Raine’s expected to find them.

Lives are at stake, goblins are threatening to sue, mages are getting greedier, and the stone’s power is getting stronger by the hour. This could get ugly.

But here’s what I want to point out, the catalyst that starts this sequel is the fact that the student spellsingers are disappearing—which, wait don’t tell me, happens within the first 30 pages of the story.

So it doesn’t matter what type of genre you write, you are looking for the plot element (the event) that will launch the story. This is often easier to find in genre fiction but it still works for literary fiction.

Next up, taking that plot element and deciding what to include along with it. As I mentioned in my blog pitch workshop entries, back cover copy runs only 7 to 9 sentences long.

And that’s your goal for nailing the pitch paragraph in your query letter.

3 Comments on Plot Catalysts For Your Pitch Paragraph, last added: 4/24/2008
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16. Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part One)

STATUS: Just added the finishing touches to the workshop presentation.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WICKED GAME by Chris Isaak

Of course I’m doing this workshop for Chicago Spring fling (an RWA chapter) so all my examples have a strong romance and women’s fiction leaning at the moment but it’s a great way to kick off this segment.

Once you’ve identified your plot catalyst that occurs in the first 30 pages, then you are ready to start building the rest of the pitch paragraph that will be in your query letter.

In looking at the back cover examples in my presentation, it’s clear there are three different ways to build the paragraph around the plot catalyst:

1. The back story that sets the story and creates the context
2. Contributing plot elements that will broaden the story
3. Character elements that are imperative to the story.

Pitch paragraphs can either focus on one of these elements to make it strong or a combination. I’ll give you three examples from my presentation and if I can get creative next week, I’ll try and grab examples from literary fiction and other genres.

So in my presentation, I offered the back cover copy of PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS as a good example of how the back story can be used to build the teaser paragraph.

The perfect marriage… Exquisitely planned.
Flawlessly executed.

And a complete disaster.

To all of London society, Lord and Lady Tremaine had the ideal arrangement: a marriage based on civility, courteousness and freedom—by all accounts, a perfect marriage. The reason? For the last ten years, husband and wife have resided on separate continents.

But once upon a time, things were quite different for the Tremaines…When Gigi Rowland first laid eyes on Camden Saybrook, Lord Tremaine, the attraction was immediate and overwhelming: she simply had to have him. But what began in a spark of passion ended in betrayal the morning after their wedding—and Gigi wants to be free to marry again. Now Camden has returned from America with an outrageous demand in exchange for Gigi’s freedom—a proposal that defies propriety and stuns his wife. For Gigi’s decision will have consequences she never imagined, as secrets are exposed, desire is rekindled—and one of London’s most admired couples must either fall in love all over again…or let each other go forever.

Step 1: identify the plot catalyst

In this paragraph, the plot element that will launch the story forward is that Gigi would like a divorce so she can remarry and Camden makes an outrageous proposal in exchange for granting it.

This does indeed happen in the first 30 pages of the novel.

Step 2: Now let’s analyze the rest of the paragraph. This is a great example of how back story will shape the “pitch.” If you look at the first paragraph, we as readers need to understand that Gigi and Camden have an ironic perfect marriage as they live in separate countries. Then we get a hint of what caused the estrangement.

Once that is established, the current event or the plot catalyst that starts the story is revealed. We get a hint of what they must face in order for it to resolve.

There really isn’t a focus on the characters or other plot elements in the story and yet, it’s strong copy (or at least I think so). Not too much is revealed but enough intriguing hints to make us interested in reading on.

10 Comments on Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part One), last added: 4/28/2008
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17. Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part Two)

STATUS: I’m okay. I didn’t accomplish as much as I had hoped today but I think I’m always overly optimistic after I’ve been out of the office for a couple of days on what actually can be completed in one 9 hour day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BABY GOT BACK version by Richard Cheese

I can’t help but share my excitement. My revamped Pitch presentation was a huge success—and I don’t mean because the participants “liked” it. Part of the hands on exercise was having audience members rewrite their pitch paragraphs right there in the workshop in 9 sentences or fewer. Then I asked volunteers to share their new pitches aloud.

I was (and I’m sure other members of the audience were too) blown away at how good the pitch paragraphs were when the writers focused on the trigger event that happens in the first 30 pages to shape their pitches.

There was lots of clapping, foot stomping, and cheers. We must have heard about 8 different revised pitches and if those paragraphs had come to me in an email query letter, I would have requested sample pages.

And judging by the audiences response, they would have read sample pages too!

So onward. On Friday I talked about backstory as a way to develop the pitch around the trigger event.

Today, let’s talk about supporting plot elements. Straight from my power point presentation, I used Linnea Sinclair’s back cover copy for THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES as a great example of how other story details can help shape the pitch.

In this steamy, suspenseful new novel from RITA award-winning author Linnea Sinclair, a dangerously sexy space commander and an irresistibly earthy Florida police detective pair up to save the civilized galaxy…but can they save themselves from each other?


Bahia Vista homicide detective Theo Petrakos thought he’d seen it all. Then a mummified corpse and a room full of futuristic hardware sends Guardian Force commander Jorie Mikkalah into his life. Before the night’s through, he’s become her unofficial partner—and official prisoner—in a race to save the Earth. And that’s only the start of his troubles.

Jorie’s mission is to stop a deadly infestation of bio-mechanical organisms from using Earth as its breeding ground. If she succeeds, she could save a world and win a captaincy. But she’ll need Theo’s help, even if their unlikely partnership does threaten to set off an intergalactic incident.

Because if she fails, she’ll lose not just a planet and a promotion, but a man who’s become far more important than she cares to admit.

Step One: Identify the plot catalyst.
The detective finds a mummified corpse and a room full of futuristic hardware that shouldn’t exist. This brings Jorie, the outworlder, to the planet. (Outworlders he doesn’t know exist, by the way.) This happens in the first two opening chapters and allows the rest of the story to start to unfold.

Step Two:
This cover copy is going to use other plot elements to shape the pitch further. We find out that Theo becomes her partner and prisoner (plot elements).

We discover what Jorie’s actual mission is (to destroy the zombies) because we need the context for those Zombies (which aren’t your usual walking dead). Plot element and part of the world building.

Then we find out yet another plot element—if she succeeds she’ll be rewarded with a captaincy—so stakes are high for her to make this mission work. And gives us a sense of the urgency and possible tension. What is she willing to risk if she fails?

So this is yet another way to build that pitch project. And yes, you can use a combination of the three I highlighted. One person in my workshop did a great job with a combo but I don’t have that pitch to share. Sorry.

Tomorrow we’ll tackle using character elements to build that pitch.

0 Comments on Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part Two) as of 4/28/2008 6:29:00 PM
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18. Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part Five Redux—INTERPRETATION OF MURDER)

STATUS: Ready for sleep.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHAPE OF MY HEART by Sting

It’s obvious to me that you guys have got this down. If you look in the comments section, everyone got the catalyst right off—Freud arriving on American soil at the same time as one rather gruesome murder and another attempted murder.

You also got that the Publisher was playing off of what they assume the general reading audience would already know about Freud.

Not to mention the “Sherlock Holmes” type set up in the language of the blurb sends some clear signals about what the reader can expect. Hence, the short and pithy pitch. In the Publisher’s mind, no extra details were needed to hook the reader (and some of you might disagree with that) but for the most part, it’s going to be effective.

By the way, the pitch used all plot details to build the paragraph. There are hints of character because of what we know in our heads about Freud but the reader is bringing that to the pitch. Character-building itself is not actually present; it’s all plot details.

My work is done here. Go forth and write awesome pitches for your novels.

I do have some more examples culled from that previous comment string but I’ll just intersperse them in here and there in future blog entries for the next couple of weeks. It just gets boring after awhile to do too many in a row.

5 Comments on Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part Five Redux—INTERPRETATION OF MURDER), last added: 5/9/2008
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19. Foiled By Whether This Is The Back Cover Copy Or Not

STATUS: I’m really swamped right now so pardon yesterday’s radio silence.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? UNBELIEVABLE by EMF

So we haven’t analyzed back cover copy for about two weeks now. With that in mind, I thought I would pull up my list of suggested examples culled from the comments section for this blog entry.

I’ve been hearing the buzz (which has been around for a while) for the National Book Award winner THEN WE CAME TO THE END and since it was suggested, I thought it would make a good choice.

But I’ve literally just spent the last 20 minutes on Amazon.com and BN.com looking for the flap copy (if you are talking hardcover). This could also be the back cover copy for a trade pb but sometimes publishers decide to use that space for quotes instead (thinking that would be more powerful to sell the story).

On Amazon, all I could find were reviews. Clicking on a variety of “search inside” features didn’t get me to the flap copy or to the back cover where a blurb might be.

On BN.com, there is a synopsis listed. This may be the flap copy or back cover copy but it’s more of summary than what, traditionally, back cover copy or flap copy tends to be.

The Tattered Cover online has this same snippet listed as the description.

Here it is:

No one knows us quite the same way as the men and women who sit beside us in department meetings and crowd the office refrigerator with their labeled yogurts. Every office is a family of sorts, and the ad agency Joshua Ferris brilliantly depicts in his debut novel is family at its strangest and best, coping with a business downturn in the time-honored way: through gossip, pranks, and increasingly frequent coffee breaks.

With a demon's eye for the details that make life worth noticing, Joshua Ferris tells a true and funny story about survival in life's strangest environment--the one we pretend is normal five days a week.

I have to say that I’m not sure this little snippet would have sold me on picking up, buying, and reading this book. The reviews on the other hand made my book club interested in at least including this book title in our next vote.

Not sure what point I’m making but if this is not the book copy and the actual copy is noticeably absent from the websites, it does rather de-emphasize the importance of that marketing tool.

Still, I think back cover copy is valuable as a learning tool for writing query pitch paragraphs. Perhaps my real point is to say that online sites have more room to offer a variety of written info about a novel to the reader beyond the back cover copy. And in fact, maybe enticing back cover copy is less important than reader and professional reviews.

It’s an interesting discussion…

22 Comments on Foiled By Whether This Is The Back Cover Copy Or Not, last added: 6/10/2008
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20. Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part Six: Ysabel)

STATUS: So it’s after midnight, which should tell you how my day went. And is this Tuesday’s entry or Wednesday’s?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DESERT ROSE by Sting

Okay so we didn’t have much luck analyzing the cover copy of THEN WE CAME TO THE END as we couldn’t find it online. Tonight (or this morning), let’s try a title where the commenter provided the cover copy for me. What can I say? I get lazy when I’m tired.

Are you ready? This one has elements of many genres so it should be fun.

From Guy Gavriel Kay's YSABEL:

Ned Marriner is spending springtime with his father in Provence, where the celebrated photographer is shooting images for a glossy coffee-table book. Both father and son fear for Ned's mother, a physician for Doctors Without Borders, currently assigned to the civil war-torn regions of Sudan. Ned has inherited her courage, and perhaps more than that.

While his father photographs the cathedral of Aix-en-Provence, Ned explores the shadowy interior with Kate Wenger, an American exchange student who has a deep knowledge of the area's history. They surprise an intruder in a place where he should not be: "I think you ought to go now," he tells them, drawing a knife. "You have blundered into a corner of a very old story."

In a modern world of iPods, cellphones, and SUVs whipping along roads walked by Celtic tribes and Roman legions, a centuries-old saga seems to be beginning again.

In this sublime and ancient corner of the world, where borders between the living and the long-dead are most vulnerable, Ned and those close to him are about to be drawn into a haunted tale, as mythic figures from conflicts of long ago erupt into the present, changing and claiming lives.

Step One: Find the plot Catalyst

Step Two: Identify what method is being used to build the paragraphs in the cover copy?
* Back story?
* Other plot elements?
* Character?
* Combo?

Step Three: Analyze the copy as a whole.
How many sentences is it? What elements make up each individual paragraph? What seemed effective and why?

I’ll check back in tomorrow (or today) so we can discuss.

9 Comments on Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part Six: Ysabel), last added: 6/11/2008
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21. Straight From A Reviewer’s Mouth

STATUS: Back to back conferences are a bit tough. On Sunday I flew back from San Francisco and RWA. Today, Worldcon began right here in Denver. On one hand, I didn’t have to travel to attend. On the other, I might be a little conferenced out but away we go.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU’LL NEVER FIND ANOTHER LOVE LIKE MINE by Lou Rawls

As I mentioned above, Denvention 3 began this morning and I kicked it off with one of the opening sessions on how to create that perfect pitch paragraph in a query letter.

No, I’m not going to beat that almost dead horse again. All you blog readers are pretty much experts by this point.

But one of the session attendees was Jacqueline Lichtenberg, a writer and a reviewer. She added a comment to the panel mix that I thought was well worth repeating. She said that for her job as a reviewer, the back cover copy of any given published novel becomes absolutely essential in terms of deciding which books to actually review. Publishers send her so much that she has stacks and stacks of books just waiting for her attention.

A quick skim of the back cover copy makes her decision on which book to read and review. Go figure. The same technique applies when agents read query letters. If you make your pitch paragraph read like back cover copy, you’ll get attention. But that isn’t the tip I want to share.

From her position as reviewer, Jacqueline recommended that aspiring writers not wait to write their pitch paragraphs or what they would consider their own back cover copy for their novels. She suggested doing that even before the novel is complete. Even, dare I say it, before the novel gets written!

If you can write good back cover copy for the novel you have in mind, your writing will be forced to live up to the copy you’ve created.

I think this is a great idea—especially for writers who are kicking around several ideas and are contemplating which idea to pursue in terms of writing a novel.

Write the back cover copy (in the way it would look if the novel were actually be published) and that alone will force you to focus on that essential plot catalyst that will drive your story forward and force you to focus the novel.

Not a bad day’s work….

20 Comments on Straight From A Reviewer’s Mouth, last added: 8/17/2008
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22. Writing That Dang Query

STATUS: I have to say that it’s 7 pm on a Friday night and I’m rather ready to go home.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MAN IN A SUITCASE by The Police

I have to say that Courtney Milan and her query sparked quite a debate, which took place over at Nathan’s blog. I think battle lines were drawn.

So it seemed like a good idea to highlight a few more thoughts on the query letter and who should be writing it.

Do I think that you should write your own query letter? Yes. Quite simply, I think the writer of the novel should be the writer for the query because hands down, that’s the best person for the job. Voice and all that (which was discussed at length over in the comments section of the debate so no need to add more comment here).

But whether I think this or not is moot because I’m not going to know whether you wrote your own query or not and I’m probably not ever going to ask (unless it suspiciously reads like something that Sherry Thomas would write….)

I do think both Sherry and Courtney brought up some good points. First off, Sherry took a stab at writing it to show Courtney the rhythm of it and what to include for plot points or conflict. And then she quite firmly said that Courtney should use her attempt as a guide only. That really it was better for the pitch to be in Courtney’s voice.

Courtney also chimed in to say that the experience of struggling with the pitch in her query letter was well worth it because it gave her a lot of insight into the manuscript and what may or may not need to be revised in the opening.

I actually heartily agree with is. You know why? Because I’ve given my query pitch workshop at numerous conferences and as you all know, I beat that already dead horse to death again by nattering on about the plot catalyst that starts your novel and how that should be the centerpiece of your pitch.

And you know what I’ve discovered? When workshop participants are forced to figure out what that catalyst is and take a stab at their pitch blurb in the workshop itself, some epiphanies have happened.

For example, in the last workshop I gave (which was at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers I think), one participant realized (to his dismay) that his plot catalyst was near page 100. Now I don’t know for sure (because I didn’t read his chapters right then and there) but my guess is that he had a lot of backstory that was filling up the opening chapters. Story that a writer needs in his head but probably doesn’t need to be there on the page.

See what I mean? So there is real value in the struggle to write the pitch.

But then here’s an interesting take on this. I know some agents who have their authors write the pitch blurb that the agent will then use in the letter to the editor.

I’ve never done that. I have always written my own pitch blurbs. Now, I certainly do ask for the author to take first stab at it because I want to see what the author perceives as the crux of the story.

If this is a debut author, then the pitch blurb has already been done in the query and I often lift elements from what the author wrote originally when crafting my own letter. You can see this in the Courtney Milan example as I lifted “wardrobe malfunction” straight from the query. That totally made me laugh and I thought an editor would find it funny as well—to have this super contemporary phrasing in a letter about a historical romance novel.

However, if you take a look at Jamie Ford’s original query letter and then my pitch letter to editors [see links in sidebar], wow, quite different.

And yet, in the debate, the emphasis on the author’s voice was really highlighted as being of the utmost of importance as to why the writer should write it him/herself.


Copyeditors at the publishing houses often write their own cover copy for the work—taking nothing from the agent’s pitch letter and they certainly haven’t seen the author’s original query.

Now I have had copyeditors lift direct lines from the copy I’ve written (which really flatters me! I give good copy!) and put it into the back cover or flap copy. Most of the times, not. What they created is wholly new.

No real point here. Just food for thought.

No matter what, I do think you should begin by writing your own pitch blurb as you will learn about your own novel in the process of doing so. Where it goes from there is ultimately up to you but whatever you do, just don’t make it generic.

23 Comments on Writing That Dang Query, last added: 1/13/2009
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23. Editor Letter for Real Life & Liars

STATUS: Getting ready for ALA Midwinter Conference which is happening here in Denver. I have a packed weekend ahead of me but it should be fun.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I’M YOURS by Jason Mraz

Because I think my blog readers find the agent-editor interaction fascinating, here’s the submission letter for this project.

Here are two interesting things to note about this letter. Kristina’s novel had a unique POV structure. One narrative is written from first person POV and the three children are written from a third person POV. I decided that I didn’t want an editor to be surprised by what is a complicated narrative structure so I actually highlighted it in my submit letter. I also highlighted that I thought the unique narrative was strength—thus (hopefully) setting the editors perception before they began reading.

By the way, this narrative structure is almost impossible to pull off. It takes a lot of talent—which is how I pitched it in the letter.

I also spent a bit more time talking about how this novel impacted me personally. I wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t “just another cancer” story. That what we had here was an insightful novel about family relationships and how complicated they can be.

I guess I succeeded as several editors agreed with me and Lucia Macro at HarperCollins won this novel at auction.

Hello Lucia,

I hate to be the agent who says this every time I send out a project but I do think that this time, I’ve found the perfect novel for you (and if I haven’t, you have permission to snub me). First off, the writing is just top-notch. This story, REAL LIFE & LIARS seamlessly shifts between the first person POV of Mira, the sixty-something hippie mother who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer and has decided not to fight it, and the three third person POVs of her three, very different children. This would be a mess in the hands of a writer with less talent.

But here’s the other reason why I’m so passionate about this story (besides the fact that I just couldn’t put it down). Even though the Zielinski family is nothing like my own, I just felt like Kristina had tapped into the essential truth of my own family’s dynamics, despite the fact that my mother never has had cancer and my brother is the oldest and not the middle child etc. She has tapped into the core truth of how all families interrelate. How siblings treat each other as adults (our worn and familiar view of each other) as well as all the possibilities that emerge when we realize our love and loyalty. It’s also a very piercing look at the relationship parents have with adult children. And even though the novel is unflinching in its exploration, the reader is left with nothing but optimism that despite our personal failings, our families really do form our core.

So here’s the story: As a wilted flower child, Mira Zielinski has never been one to follow orders. Not from her husband, not from her boss – not even from her oncologist. Mira has her own idea about handling her newly diagnosed breast cancer, and it does not involve hopping up on the operating table. Her grown children will no doubt object -- when she gets around to telling them.

As they come home for the weekend of Mira and Max’s thirty-fifth wedding anniversary party, her kids harbor some secret trials. Middle child Ivan’s lifelong desire to be a songwriter is withering on the vine after years of futility and his dating haplessness is so familiar, it’s almost a family joke. The impulsive and very young youngest child Irina will walk in the door with a surprise groom, though she’s already looking for the escape hatch in her shiny new marriage. As for the oldest, Katya, let's just say that it would be a relief if her husband’s big secret were just the affair she suspects he’s having. As these trials unfold, certain family truths come to light but will they shake Mira’s resolve?

The author, Kristina Riggle, is a freelance journalist and published short story writer. Her credits include Cimarron Review, Net Author’s E2K and Espresso Fiction. She is also the co-editor for fiction at the e-zine Literary Mama, named one of Forbes’ “Best of the Web.” Kristina was also a judge for the 2007 Carrie McCray Literary Awards in the short fiction category. Since she is connected to the writing community, she has already lined up blurbs from published authors such as Kristy Kiernan (CATCHING GENIUS) and Carrie Kabak (COVER THE BUTTER, A Book Sense pick June 2005).

May I send this novel your way?
All Best,

12 Comments on Editor Letter for Real Life & Liars, last added: 1/25/2009
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24. The Pitch Alternative?


What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHE WORKS HARD FOR THE MONEY by Donna Summer

What I’m looking for is a pitch alternative.

Hum… the problem is this. Most conferences charge a fee for a participant to do a pitch session with an agent or editor above and beyond the fee to attend the conference. This is often how conferences generate revenue to run the programs.

So right now, most conferences allow anyone who wants to sign up for pitch appointment to do so. There really is no monitoring of whether the writers have a finish project or even if their project fits with the agent they are pitching.

Most conferences assume that those interested in pitch appts. are doing their homework to sign up with the right person. We’d all like to think that writers would be in tune enough do that.

Unfortunately, that’s not the reality. Examining the conferences I’ve done just in the last year, which was actually a lot because I freakishly agreed to something like 9 conferences last year, I can tell you this. On average, more than 60% of the conference attendees who pitched me were not ready to pitch as they didn’t even have a complete manuscript.

At one conference I did last year, I’d say that the percentage rate was higher. More than 80% of the people I had pitch appointments with didn’t have an even close to finished manuscript for me to look at.

And yet, the agent/editor appts. are the biggest money generators for the conference. I get the necessity of that.

I’m just trying to find some other way to accommodate writers without finished projects to have time with an agent/editor.

Jessica suggested more social events planned for the participants and the faculty. I’m certainly not opposed to that but those events usually are not something that will generate the much needed revenue the conference organizers need.

Not only that but at social functions, agents and editors often like to hang together (because we like catching up with each other as well) and very few attendees feel confident enough to break that “inner circle” grouping. Hey, I’ve been guilty of that and I’m willing to ‘fess up to it. It just happens because we have so much to talk about. The participant interaction is probably not as high as it should be at these mixers.
Now the Pikes Peak conference does an interesting thing with their agent/editor hosted table at the lunch hour (which is free) but the tables are too big and the room is often too noisy to really work well except for the few attendees lucky enough to sit closest to the agent or editor.

So I’m trying to find some kind of happy medium that could work, and I’m open to suggestions.

So bring it on. How could we solve this problem?

25 Comments on The Pitch Alternative?, last added: 4/6/2009
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