How To Write A Pitch For Your Novel

NB: this was originally posted on There And Draft Again in February 2013, but I have tweaked it slightly to share with you again today.

Hello gentle reader,

Whether you’re looking for an agent or self-publishing your book, there comes a time in your life as a writer when you have to write a pitch for your novel. Here is a bit of advice on what to do and what to avoid when drafting your pitch…

1 – Bear in mind the purpose of your pitch is to sell the idea of your story to an agent or a reader. “Hooking” them with a 10-line paragraph summarising your 90k+ novel isn’t an easy task, but it is doable, and necessary if you want  your book to make it to readers’ shelves. So let’s start, shall we?

2 – A pitch for a novel should be about 200 words long. Which is to say, it’s brief.

3 – A pitch should include:

  • Who your Main Character is and what he wants (his GOAL)
  • What the inciting incident is and why your Main Character chooses to do something about it (his CHOICE)
  • What is at stake should your Main Character fail in his endeavour (WHY THE READER SHOULD CARE)

4 – A pitch should NOT be too generic and vague. Chuck Sambuchino gives a great example of what a pitch should not be like on the Writer’s Digest website. Do go and read it.

5 – A pitch should not include everything about your story. It should not attempt to describe in detail the wonderfully complex world you’ve created. Thus it should only include your Main Character, the Antagonist and whoever is relevant to the Main Character’s goal, choice and problem. And it should not mention too many proper names and places. And it should make sense.

6 – Last but not least, you should have beta readers for your pitch. Try to find at least one who hasn’t read your novel and has no idea what it’s about. And try to have at least one who has read your novel and can tell you if your pitch does it justice.

I hope this helps! Feel free to leave me your questions and comments below!

(All GIFs are from Pushing Daisies and none of them belong to me)

Successful Queries – Day 6 – Rhiann Wynn-Nolet

Hello gentle reader,

Welcome to the Successful Queries Blog Series! The idea is to share with you Queries That Worked and to find out what made them stand out in the slushpile. My hope is that it’ll help you, querying writers, to write an amazing query for your own manuscript and to find Your Agent.

Today Rhiann Wynn-Nolet is sharing her query and answering a few questions. Rhiann writes YA and NA fiction and she’s represented by Stefanie Lieberman of Janklow & Nesbit Associates. 

RhiannWynnNolet

QUERY

Dear Agent,

TENDRIL is a dark YA Rapunzel meets The Collector story, set in present day Maine and complete at 67,000 words.

A family curse. Albinism. Hair that moves according to feelings and desires of its own. These are the heirlooms Opal MacBride inherits. The curse is painfully clear on two points—Opal will never find true love, and MacBride men may become indecently obsessed with her magical hair and alabaster skin.

When her grandmother dies, Opal’s uncle becomes her entirely unsuitable guardian. While seeking solace at her grandmother’s grave, she attracts a lonely, angry sixteen year old ghost. Shortly thereafter she meets his equally lonely, slightly sullen living brother. Despite unfavorable first impressions, romance blossoms. Soon she questions everything she was told about love and the curse.

Though the curse may be wrong about love, it is dreadfully accurate regarding Opal’s uncle. His obsession leads to a depraved scheme to make her a prisoner in his lighthouse. To save herself, Opal must foil his plot. To ensure a happy ending, she must choose between the two brothers she loves, and life in this world or eternal life in the next.

 INTERVIEW

How long did it take you to write this query?

I worked on this query during the summer of 2012 and probably had 4 versions (The only one I saved was Query4 in my Word docs).

Did you have beta readers or CPs (or did you enter contests or workshops) to help you with your query? 

Honestly I didn’t know query-writing advice was available when I started querying. I didn’t know about CPs or betas either. Sad, but true. “Social Media” was on my To Do List right after “Query TENDRIL”. But as soon as I stuck my toe into the Twitter stream, I heard about WriteOnCon 2012. During contests in summer/fall 2012 people gave me feedback. Besides WriteOnCon, there was GUTGAA, a Curiosity Quills contest, Agent Trick Or Treat, and some whose names I don’t remember. Several provided query advice.

What was the hardest part to get right?

Definitely plot. A number of well-meaning advisors told me I needed to figure out what the MAIN plot was—the love story or the MC vs. her creepy uncle. To me both were equally important and inextricably entwined plot arcs. I gave them equal time in my query.

Any advice for querying writers out there?

Yes!

 a. Avail yourself of all the “free” help out there, but don’t rush to make every change someone advises. In the end it’s YOUR query, YOUR chance to get an agent’s attention. Analyze who’s suggesting the change, whether it provides you with an “aha!” moment, whether more than one person makes the same suggestion, etc.

b. Experiment with a couple of different versions of your query –send out a small batch of Query 1 and a small batch of Query 2 to see which garners more interest.

c. Query in batches, because if you’re lucky enough to get requests for fulls/partials you can add that in to your next round of queries. In my experience, nothing makes an agent sit up and take notice faster than an indication that other agents are interested. If you find yourself in the enviable position of receiving an offer, then BY ALL MEANS nudge outstanding queries and query anyone you haven’t already (as long as it’s someone you’d like as an agent).

d. There is no “secret recipe” for writing the perfect query, and really your query doesn’t have to be perfect, just good enough to make the agent want to read the story.

 Thank you so much for taking part in this blog series, Rhiann!

GIVEAWAY (closed)

Querying Writers! Rhiann is giving away a QUERY CRITIQUE to one lucky winner! To enter, please fill in the form below with your name and email adresss, and include the genre of your mansucript. Good luck!

The giveaway is open internationally until Saturday 15th March 2014 at 11pm BST.

Any questions? Ask below!

Successful Queries – Day 5 – Kate Brauning

Hello gentle reader,

Welcome to the Successful Queries Blog Series! The idea is to share with you Queries That Worked and to find out what made them stand out in the slushpile. My hope is that it’ll help you, querying writers, to write an amazing query for your own manuscript and to find Your Agent.

Today the very knowledgeable Kate Brauning is sharing her query and answering a few questions. Kate writes contemporary and speculative suspense, both YA and adult, and she’s represented by Carlie Webber at CK Webber Associates.

kate-brauning

QUERY

HOW WE FALL, a YA suspense, is complete at 88,000 words.

Making out with your cousin has its pitfalls. Seventeen-year-old Jackie hasn’t been able to end her secret relationship with Marcus since he kissed her on a dare. He’s her best friend, which only makes it harder to quit their obsessive relationship.

Except she has to, because she’s falling in love with him. It’s not like it’s illegal to date her cousin, but her parents would never approve and the families would split up their multi-family home. Afraid of losing her best friend, she calls it off. She can’t lose Marcus right now: the cops just found her missing friend’s body.

Hurt and angry, Marcus starts dating the new girl, Sylvia. But with Sylvia comes a secret and a stranger. The stranger starts following Jackie everywhere she goes, and Marcus is nearly killed in a car accident. When Jackie finds out Sylvia lied about not knowing her murdered friend, Jackie’s certain Sylvia is connected to the man threatening Marcus.

The more Jackie finds out about Sylvia, the bigger the wedge between Jackie and Marcus, but she doesn’t have long to figure out what’s going on. She may have lost both her relationship and her friendship with Marcus, but she couldn’t handle losing him for real.

If she doesn’t act fast, Sylvia’s secrets may mean their bodies will be the next ones the police dig out of the Missouri woods.

INTERVIEW

How long did it take you to write this query? 

This query is the product of 3 or 4 drafts and a lot of revisions where I cut a line or changed a phrase. It was hard to write because it has two main conflicts, which was difficult to show clearly.

Did you have beta readers or CPs (or did you enter contests or workshops) to help you with your query?

My CPs helped a ton. I couldn’t do it without them! I didn’t use workshops or contests for critiques for this query, but I did for the first MS I queried.

What was the hardest part to get right: the voice, the plot, the worldbuilding, etc?

Showing the kind of story it is was the most difficult. It’s part thriller, part dark contemporary romance. The taboo element was hard to address. So basically, the toughest part was having the query show the agent what to expect from the pages– which is probably true for most queries!

Any advice for querying writers out there?

Read agent blogs to get a handle on what they’re seeing too much of and what to avoid both in query issues and in issues like the structure of your opening pages and cliche plot elements; get someone to critique your query who knows nothing about your book so you know if it will be clear to agents; start a new project to keep your mind off your inbox while you query!

Most of all, keep at it. Query the MS you have now, write a new one, query that one. Learn how to improve with each one. Persistence gets it done. 🙂

If you want to read my full agent story, and what happened before I got signed, you can read the whole story here: My Agent Story and Before I Got My Agent.

Thank you so much for taking part in this blog series, Kate!

Any questions? Ask below!

Successful Queries – Day 4 – Dahlia Adler

Hello gentle reader,

Welcome to the Successful Queries Blog Series! The idea is to share with you Queries That Worked and to find out what made them stand out in the slushpile. My hope is that it’ll help you, querying writers, to write an amazing query for your own manuscript and to find Your Agent.

Today the very wise Dahlia Adler is sharing her query and answering a few questions. Dahlia writes YA Contemporary fiction and she’s represented by Lana Popovic at Zachary Shuster Harmsworth.

DahliaAdler

QUERY

Dear Ms. Popovic,

Thank you so much for expressing interest in my query during PitchMas!

Reagan Forrester wants out–out of her trailer park, out of reach of her freeloading mother, and out of the shadow of the relationship that made her the pariah of Charytan, Kansas.

Victoria Reyes wants in–in to a fashion design program and a sorority, in to the arms of a cute guy who doesn’t go to Charytan High, and in to a city where she won’t stand out for being Mexican.

One thing the polar-opposite best friends do agree on is that wherever they go, they’re going together. But when they set off on a series of college visits at the start of their senior year, they quickly see that the future doesn’t look quite like they expected. After two years of near-solitude following the betrayal of the ex-boyfriend who broke her heart, Reagan falls hard and fast for a Battlestar Galactica-loving, brilliant smile-sporting pre-med prospective… only to learn she’s set herself up for heartbreak all over again. Meanwhile, Victoria realizes everything she’s looking for might be in the very place they’ve sworn to leave.

As both Reagan and Victoria struggle to learn who they are and what they want in the present, they discover just how much they don’t know about each other’s pasts. And when each learns what the other’s been hiding, they’ll have to decide whether their friendship has a future.

JUST VISITING is an 86,000-word contemporary YA novel that will appeal to fans of the upper-YA coming-of-age themes and dual perspectives of Sara Zarr’s HOW TO SAVE A LIFE and the layered friendships explored through travel in Nina LaCour’s THE DISENCHANTMENTS. I work as an Assistant Editor of Mathematics, as well as a Copy Editor, and am a member of SCBWI. My debut novel, BEHIND THE SCENES, will release from Spencer Hill Contemporary in June 2014, with two more to follow.

I’d love to send you material upon request. Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Best regards,

Dahlia

INTERVIEW

How long did it take you to write this query?

I don’t remember exactly how long it took me to write the query, but I think sum total was only a few days. It was the fourth manuscript I’d queried, and I think query-writing is one of those things that actually does get easier. There was definitely tweaking done to the original version, but it always looked a lot like this. (This is a little choppier, especially at the start, than most I sent out. If I recall correctly, it’s because I did it through the agency’s website submission system, which has a word count maximum.)

Did you have beta readers or CPs (or did you enter contests or workshops) to help you with your query?

My CPs Maggie Hall, Marieke Nijkamp, and Gina Ciocca read and improve just about everything I do, and this was no exception! My wonderful friend Rick Lipman read it too, which was really helpful because unlike my CPs, he hadn’t read the manuscript. They all definitely helped tweak for better phrasing and clarity.

What was the hardest part to get right?

The hardest part was definitely writing it for a dual-POV. A lot of query advice says to only tackle one in the query, and then just mention it alternates at the end of the letter, and I definitely think that’s the right tactic in a lot of cases, particularly in Romance. But here, it was really important to me not to implant the idea in a reader’s brain that one story was dominant. This is a best friendship story, and I really wanted to give them as equal footing as possible. It’s definitely on the longer side for a query, but I think it’s right for the story. I agree that you have to learn the rules before you can break them, and I felt like I’d reached the point of learning that allowed me to buck conventional query wisdom.

Any advice for querying writers out there?

The number one advice I’d give to query writers out there is to have someone who hasn’t read your book read your query. It’s really hard to know what doesn’t make sense to an outside reader who has no story background other than what you’re putting out there. I’d also say, as someone who’s read a zillion queries in contests, don’t be vague. Every detail should be something that’s unique to your story. Nothing makes eyes glaze over like “And then her world turned upside down.” There’s a huge range between being vague and spoiling the ending – find something in there.

I’d also add that although I used comp titles in this query, I only did so because they really, really screamed to me as being just right for this book. But they’re not something to be forced. If you have nothing but bestsellers to use, or can’t think of anything at all, just don’t use them. They can be really helpful when done right, but really off-putting when not. Their absence won’t be noted anywhere near as much as poor usage will.

Thank you so much for taking part in this blog series, Dahlia!

Any questions? Ask below!

Successful Queries – Day 3 – Brianna Shrum

Hello gentle reader,

Welcome to the Successful Queries Blog Series! The idea is to share with you Queries That Worked and to find out what made them stand out in the slushpile. My hope is that it’ll help you, querying writers, to write an amazing query for your own manuscript and to find Your Agent.

Today the ever interesting Brianna Shrum is sharing her query and answering a few questions. Brianna writes YA and NA fiction and she’s represented by Bree Ogden of D4EO Literary.

Brianna Shrum

QUERY

Dear…

The kidnapping was a quiet one. In fact, most people mightn’t even have called it a kidnapping. You see, the victim went willingly, and his captor was only a child, a child the world knows as a hero.

On James Hook’s thirteenth birthday, Peter Pan entices him away to Neverland, a world made of adventure and built from children’s dreams. But very soon after, Peter Pan reneges on his promise to take James back home after his holiday. Trapped in Neverland under the harsh care of Peter, and faced with a future of shattered make-believe, little James can do nothing but break Peter’s number one rule: No growing up.

When Peter can no longer deny that James has rapidly grown into a man, Pan sentences him to death. James escapes and finds refuge among a band of pirates, stepping naturally into the role of their Captain. Despite that, James is obsessed with only one thing: returning home. Something Neverland does not wish him to do. His single-minded endeavor is thrown off course when he finds himself falling in love with the beautiful Tiger Lily, a woman whose heart is torn between the pirate Captain and Pan, the boy Neverland has destined her to love.

Trapped against his will in a place where love is twisted, children are happily heartless, and dreams are killed, Captain James Hook struggles to not become consumed by hatred and revenge, and to survive as a man in a world that hates men.

Currently, most of my work has been hastily scribbled on a chalkboard and speed-read by the students in the middle and high school writing classes I teach.

Drawing from J.M. Barrie’s darker Neverland, NEVER, NEVER is an upmarket retelling of Peter Pan from Captain Hook’s perspective. It is complete at 78,000 words.

The full manuscript and synopsis are attached, as per your request.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

INTERVIEW

How long did it take you to write this query?

I wrote the first draft of this query in a day, but then it went through maybe two or three more drafts, I think, before it ended up like it is now. So, all in all, probably a few days.

Did you have beta readers or CPs (or did you enter contests or workshops) to help you with your query?

I did have CP’s and betas. A couple CP’s, then a couple peeps on Twitter who were rockin’ enough to exchange queries with me. Plus, I entered Pitch Wars, and my lovely, fizztacular mentor gave me some pointers on this query. So yeah, safe to say I had some help 😉

What was the hardest part to get right?

Hmmmmm. The hardest part to get right…I’d say plot. There is kind of a lot going on in this story, and in this query, I had to get across the whole, “Hey, so, Peter Pan is a totally psychotic kidnapper, not a beloved little elf-guy, trust me,” thing, and get across an unfamiliar backstory to a very familiar character. The love story was important to me too, but I didn’t want to clog it with excessive stuff. Definitely getting enough details to intrigue, but not so many that it was cluttered, was tricky, and something pretty much anyone who critted it brought up.

Any advice for querying writers out there?

Number one, research. Research agents, research their books, research alllll the query resources you can. Two, don’t be afraid to ask people for crits! Mine was soooo much better because of it, and more often than not, people, especially writers, are cool and wanna help out. Last, don’t. Give. Up. On the day after New Year’s of 2013, I distinctly remember getting a rejection from a dream agent, and just bursting into tears. Well, my dad was a wisdomous dude, and he said, “Someday, you’re gonna get an agent, and you’re gonna love that agent so much that you will be glad this one rejected you. Three weeks later, I signed with Bree, and learned that my dad was absolutely right. So, ya know, what he said. To you.

Thank you so much for taking part in this blog series, Brianna!

GIVEAWAY (closed)

Querying Writers! Brianna is giving away a QUERY CRITIQUE to one lucky winner! To enter, please fill in the form below with your name and email adresss, and inlude the genre of your mansucript. Good luck!

The giveaway is open internationally until Sunday 9th March 2014 at 11pm BST.

Any questions? Ask below!

Successful Queries – Day 2 – Amanda Foody

Hello gentle reader,

Welcome to the Successful Queries Blog Series! The idea is to share with you Queries That Worked and to find out what made them stand out in the slushpile. My hope is that it’ll help you, querying writers, to write an amazing query for your own manuscript and to find Your Agent.

Today the very talented Amanda Foody is sharing her query and answering a few questions. Amanda writes Young Adult Fantasy and she’s represented by Molly Jaffa of Folio Literary Management.

Amanda Foody

QUERY

Updated 27/05/17: Amanda’s first book in the Shadow Game series, ACE OF SHADES, will be published by Harlequin Teen in April 2018. To avoid spoilers, her query for the book has been removed from this post. But you can read the blurb and add ACE OF SHADES on Goodreads here!

INTERVIEW

How long did it take you to write this query?

It took me ages to write the query. I tend to write queries very early on, before I’ve even fully plotted a book. It helps me with direction. So, that in mind, I was in the middle of writing the ms around WriteOnCon, so I submitted it there. Changed it a few times. Finished the book. Changed it more. Got an R&R that required me to change it yet again. So countless, countless times with countless, countless reviewers.

Did you have beta readers or CPs (or did you enter contests or workshops) to help you with your query?

Oh yes. My CPs read my query for me, plus I entered workshops with other sorts of pitches. Also, anonymous readers for queries are great since they’re not familiar with your story.

What was the hardest part to get right?

For the book, at the stage of querying, definitely world-building. Before this query, I had gotten a major R&R that changed my entire world. For the query, it was a mixture of world-building and plot. I have a dual POV but never felt like I gave enough of Levi’s separate plot line my query, but some things just need to go to make room.

Any advice for querying writers out there?

Don’t get ‘trigger happy’ with queries. It will be very tempting to send out to every agent that exists in your first batch, but of all batches, your first batch to be the smallest to gage reception. Maybe 10 agents. If you’re not getting a lot of positive response, try to reevaluate your query and opening pages and determine what can be improved. Also, do something to take your mind off querying. Work on a new project, especially (not your book’s sequel). Even if it’s silly and not meant for anyone else’s eyes, do something that pulls you away from refreshing your inbox every five minutes.

Thank you so much for taking part in this blog series, Amanda!

Any questions? Ask below!

Successful Queries – Day 1 – Summer Heacock

Hello gentle reader,

Welcome to the Successful Queries Blog Series! The idea is to share with you Queries That Worked and to find out what made them stand out in the slushpile. My hope is that it’ll help you, querying writers, to write an amazing query for your own manuscript and to find Your Agent.

Today the ever-wonderful Summer Heacock (aka Fizzygrrl) is sharing her query and answering a few questions. Summer writes Women’s Fiction and she’s represented by Sarah LaPolla of Bradford Literary Agency.

Summer Heacock

QUERY

Dear Sarah,

I am seeking representation for WITH A SHAKE OF HER HAIR, a women’s fiction manuscript complete at 81,000 words.

Ellie Donahue is drowning in Suburbia.  She is driving a beige mini-van and wondering where the twenty-year-old version of herself disappeared to.   The version that didn’t give a crap about high-fructose corn syrup and thought ramen noodles and beer was a balanced dinner.

Stuck in a predictable rut of routine Sunday night sex and Thursday night chicken, Ellie’s biggest concerns are running into meddlesome Sancti-mommies at the grocery store, or being forced by her nudist mother-in-law to listen to an AC/DC cover by her band, ‘The Noody Blues’ and trying to ignore the fact that they are indeed naked while singing it.

When confronted by her husband’s infidelity with a coworker, Ellie is forced out of her rut and into a reality where she is torn between the temptation of an affair of her own with her daughter’s delicious soccer coach or fighting for her rapidly crumbling marriage. With her life upside down, Ellie struggles to determine her next step, and finds herself longing for the predictability of Thursday night chicken.

I have been writing for fifteen years, and for the last eight years have been featured in the local paper, “Our Home Town”, as the head writer for the Reviews and Opinions column.  While my training is in Psychology and Creative Writing, I have a strong background in Theater and Stand-Up Comedy, a combination of experiences that I have found very helpful when writing.  I am a stay-at-home-mother of two and in the process of writing my next novel.

I thank you very much for your time and look forward to hearing from you soon!

Sincerely,

Summer Heacock

INTERVIEW

How long did it take you to write this query?

When I first wrote a query for this book, over five years ago now, it was a horror show. That’s not an exaggeration. It was the worst thing possibly ever. I knew nothing about queries and didn’t do more than a few Google searches for research. (Don’t be like me.)

An agent I queried at the time took pity on what I assume was the worst wuery she had ever read in her entire life and actually emailed me back and forth for a whole day, guiding me through what the query could be. I realized the errors of my ways, bought some pitching books, and got to work. There were at least fifteen versions of that query…

My next query had a great request rate, but the book wasn’t nearly as polished as it needed to be. Again, I was a total idiot and had no idea what I was doing. (DON’T BE LIKE ME.)

This particular query came four years after the original. I tinkered with it after spending time reading other queries online and asked a CP for some advice. It took me an afternoon to put this one together and it stuck.

Did you have beta readers or CPs (or did you enter contests or workshops) to help you with your query?

I did have betas and CPs! My biggest help when I was writing this version was Brenda Drake (who every writer should know because she is an angel.) and a writers group called TwitWits. That group was the best support possible for a querying writer, and great to get critiques.

I can’t sell the importance of a core group of trusted readers enough. Trust is the key word. You have to know they will be honest. And find people who are good at what you suck at. I am terrible with mechanics and finding grammar and spelling errors. I just read in a different way. So I make a point to have CPs who excel in those areas. When we trade, I can give them content and story ideas they might not have had on their stories, and they can punch me in the face for continually misusing lay and lie in mine.

It’s the same way when we work on pitches together. Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses makes everything a lot easier. Otherwise you’ll spend more time fighting with yourself than you will successfully writing. (In case that didn’t translate, this is me hinting at my stubbornness during my first querying attempts five years ago…)

What was the hardest part to get right?

The plot. The freaking plot. I still have a hard time putting my own pitches together without using some kind of cliché to explain it. I am good at helping other people with pitches, but for some reason with my own? I’m the actual worst. I can’t ever seem to see my own writing in a clear way.

I write contemp so world building isn’t as big of an issue to me as it was when I was working on a fantasy story a few years back. Querying a fantasy MS taught me I have no business writing fantasy.

Any advice for querying writers out there?

DO RESEARCH. All of it. There are a million resources out there to help. The first place that comes to mind is The Query Shark ran by the stellar Janet Reid. You can’t do better than that site for query help.  CPSeek.com is a great place to meet and hang with other writers. Dahlia Adler has a blog that should be bookmarked by anyone trying to get into publishing.

Spend a lot of time reading other queries. Find what works. Learn what doesn’t.

Have friends who will read your stuff and tell you when it sucks. It’s nice hearing your work is great, but you want someone who will tell you what’s good, but what is crap too. That’s crucial.

Find a non-deadly vice and roll with it. I choose to mainline Jelly Bellies. My teeth might fall out eventually, but I figured it was a fair trade since I can’t have caffeine.

 Thank you so much for taking part in this blog series, Summer!

Any questions? Ask below!