I am again one of the editors participating in the exciting Pitch to Publication competition, the brain/heart child of the fab Samantha Fountain (@fountainwriter).
Writers pitch/query 3 editors; editors choose 1-2 writers to work with via developmental edit; writers then pitch/query 3 agents. Starts March 5th.
Fifteen (15) super cool editors are participating, covering just about every genre. Check them out!
My profile: http://pitch2pub.com/editor/therealwriter
During the #askeditor sessions for P2P16, I'm seeing a lot of the same questions about pitches, query letters, etc. so here are the formulas I give my clients for writing the pitch and query letter.
FIRST: ASK YOURSELF SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR BOOK
Who is your audience? What do they want (in life and from your book)? What do you want them to feel?
What is your main theme? (A universal idea or message that stretches through the entire story. Examples: triumph over adversity; what it means to be human; identity crisis...)
What is your writing style?
What is unique about your book?
What is your genre, title, and word count? :)
Write out answers to these. Make a list of words that convey key information about your character, conflict, plot, setting. Pick words that convey emotion! Jot down a few metaphors and images as well.
Then be direct with yourself. Ask yourself: What is this book really about? Be clear. You can finesse things later.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF THE SAME PITCH: these should all have the same core ideas, words so you can pull them out, easily. At first they might all highlight something different about your book.
Once you've written them, go back to the questions above to guide you in bringing the pitches into balance. (Also, seriously consider if this is an issue that requires revising your book.)
LOG LINE: Sometimes called a "hook line." This gets confusing because editors use different terms, I know! The log line is not the same as the hook in your pitch (hook explained below). The log line is the summary of the premise of your book in one sentence. The 25-35 word pitch. Get in character (protagonist and antagonist) and summarize conflict through a major/key plot point (action). Make it exciting! Get in what is unique about your book and also setting, if possible.
Example: ''A cold businessman falls in love with a warm-hearted hooker he hires to be his date for a week." (PRETTY WOMAN) Note the nice alliteration on "heart" and "hooker."
ELEVATOR PITCH: A bit longer--3-4 sentences. Start with "I have a Word Count Genre novel entitled Title. It's the story of Log Line."
Then add a few more details: Get in setting, develop the main character a bit more (add an adjective), rising action OR theme statement (theme statement: "a coming of age novel," "a tale of good and evil," etc.) Should be less than a minute to say. Thirty seconds is best.
THE BASIC PITCH:
As you go through the parts below just get everything in. It’s going to be a mess at first. Accept that now! Don’t edit/censor as you write. It helps to write in fragments of sentences or just list words. That will keep ideas flowing and the inner editor/censor at bay.
Then, the goal is to edit it down. Brief is best!
1. The first sentence quickly sets up the High Concept and identifies the characters. Give a sense of age, an adjective, a name, some identifier for the character that does a lot of work for you –'lawyer’ ‘divorced’ – words that provide a built in sense of the character—and setting (SCENE SET) AND should also include the HOOK (what gets the reader's attention in the opening of a story and makes them want to keep reading. It begs a question the agent/editor must read on to find out more about).
Ex. (Donna Tart, The Goldfinch): "Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother."
Key bits highlighted. You want to know more, right? How did he survive? What kind of accident? And your emotions are engaged because he's young and he's lost his mother.
See how this can't really be your log line? It's not finished. More is needed to propel the reader into "what then?"
This is often the messiest bit! Just get it all in and tweak it later
2. Insert sufficient MAJOR COMPLICATION(s) deriving from a PLOT POINT (the first event/circumstance/action that significantly changes the course of the plot). Antagonist should make an appearance. It helps to list your major complication first – then the plot point that makes it happen.
3. Insert a dose of RISING ACTION (like the second act of a film). Perhaps further complications if those don’t take too much room.
Basically, after the dust from the major complication has settled, what happens? If there are a couple of sub-complications that happen as the story rises to the climactic moment then add them (BUT not too complicated and not too much info! Don't choke your pitch with secondary characters and subplots or sub-complications that require too much explanation. And only one secondary character and one subplot if they are easy to convey).
4. Wrap up with a CLIFFHANGER. A description that doesn’t give away the climax. A cliffhanger begs the ultimate question of the story. Once this question is begged, you want the agent or editor to ask for more. And once they do, you will have engaged them enough to perhaps sell them on the idea of your novel.
Hint but don't reveal (unless they ask. Then tell them the ending). You can use both questions and a statement in the cliffhanger, but watch being overly dramatic.
5. You can also add a theme statement. “TITLE is a story of good and evil, love and hate, set against the mysterious, sensual backdrop of Buenos Aires.” These are not always necessary, but it’s a good thing to try to give them an added sense of your book.
DO NOT gush about you or what others have said about your writing. This is not a Theme Statement About You and, unless you're Donna Tartt or Jodi Picoult, you haven't earned that copy.
6. Lastly, what is the "unique world" of your book? What is its unique aspect? Is it an element of the setting? Character? Tone or voice? Plot? It can be a twist on something familiar, but there has to be something about your book that sets it apart. Get that in somewhere, if you can, now that the pitch is written.
**If you're part of Pitch to Publication, check the link above for specific instructions on what info is required.**
HOW TO GIVE A PITCH (in person):
When meeting with an editor or agent you want to give them the following information:
YOUR NAME. (People often forget this!)
PLATFORM. (Your credentials - "creds") These must establish you as the authority on the subject of your book and/or your writing skills/experience. Do you teach? Where? Where have you published (key places, not neighborhood newspaper)? Are you a Twitter phenom? Say so. Give your MFA if it is in creative writing. Other degree if it establishes authority on the book's subject. If you write for a newspaper or magazine, or have a job in writing, publishing, let them know that. Pick 2-3 things max. Don't overwhelm them.
TITLE AND GENRE. Genres get more specific by the day. Keep up to date!
COMPARABLES ("comps"). Who do you write like? Give author and book. Minimum of two. Or you can mix authors/books/films. "If (author) wrote (book)." Or: "Author/book/movie meets author/book/movie."
YOUR PITCH. 200-250 words max. You can even get to 150. It is possible! Don't give lots of details, think more broadly. Have cliffhangers (but also be able to summarize the end of your story quickly should they ask).
REMEMBER TO REPEAT THE NAME OF YOUR NOVEL before you give your pitch: "In (book title)..."
At the most, your pitch should take 3-5 minutes. Any longer and his/her eyes will glaze over and you've lost them.
In general, it's fairly easy to plug the pitch into a QUERY LETTER (each item is a paragraph):
1. Greeting/opening: why are you querying this agent? Establish connection to them, their books, blog post, conference talk. Be brief.
2. "Title is a Word Count Genre novel about Log Line similar to (or with elements of) Comparables."
3. Pitch (in one paragraph if you can manage it).
5. "The novel is complete and available immediately (or upon request)."
6. Closing. Be human/real here (and throughout, really). Thank them. If it's the holidays wish them happy holidays. Be natural. If you can't then just say thank you for their time and consideration.
There are many ways of writing a query letter. Just Googling will make your head spin. This is fairly no nonsense, which I'm a fan of.
Whichever you follow, don't wax on. White space and brevity are your friends. Definitely don't write two pages. And don't instruct the agent or editor (if querying a press) on the market.
The agent or editor should be able to scan your letter and get what they need.
Be professional but be you. It's like dating. You have to find "Agent Right."
Good luck and hope to see your submission at P2P16!