Now that you’ve rocked the synopsis (see part 1), you’re ready to tackle further reduction of your work in the form of the one line hook, also known as the elevator pitch.
A pitch line must include four components: Main character, main opponent, main problem, main action.
Here are some pitch lines from well-know works in various genres:
“The largest think tank in the world is behind a series of mysterious deaths, and the young widows of two of the victims must stop them.” Are You Afraid of the Dark? By Sydney Sheldon
“When a grizzled war veteran dies on his 83rd birthday, he finds himself in heaven, where the five people who mattered most to him explain the meaning of life.”
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
“A group of strangers, isolated in the Greek village of Agia Anna, must confront everything they have run away from when an explosion on a local tourist boat rocks their world.” Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchy
“In nineteenth century England, a partnership between two brilliant conjurers is threatened when one heedlessly pursues the shadowy magic of the Raven King.” Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
A few things to note in these examples:
· Each pitch is a single sentence.
· The order in which the four components appear is flexible and flows with the plot.
· The definition “main character, main opponent” isn’t necessarily a single person. Sheldon’s and Clarke’s books are “buddy stories” inside of other genres and therefore there are two main characters. Binchy’s novel is an ensemble story with multiple POVs.
· Proper names aren’t important in the pitch line. Whenever possible, use a concise description of your main character and main opponent rather than using their names. (Unless, of course, your opponent’s name is Raven King. That just rocks.)
The query letter
The query letter used to be called the cover letter back in the days of Moses when people used snail mail to connect with agents. Today, most prefer e-mail, which has led to writers getting sloppy and shooting off less than professional query letters. Tsk.
All correspondence with an agent/editor/publisher should be professional, short, error free, short, complete, and did I mention short?
· Always address a specific agent at the agency. Sending out a query that begins “Dear Agent” will end with your query in the “Dear Deleted” file.
· Always read up on the agency, and every agent you query. Ensure you send an email that includes exactly what they are looking for in a query (e.g. query letter only, query letter and first five pages, or query letter, synopsis and first fifty pages.) Not all agents want to see a synopsis with a query.
· Never attach a file to a query. All material should be pasted into the body of your email. If the agent’s website tells you to query with a letter, synopsis, and first five pages, you paste all of that (in that order) in the body of the email you send.
· Address the agent using his or her surname. Dear Ms. Superduper. Dear Mr. Smartguy.
· Include the date of your query at the top of the page.
· In the subject line of your email query (this is important!) you must tell the agent what the email is about. It should read like this: “Query—Agent Name—TITLE OF NOVEL by Author Name”
The letter itself should be around five (short) paragraphs. Here’s a template you can use to help craft your query letter. (This is just an example—be creative, use great nouns and verbs, express yourself clearly, creatively, and most of all use the letter to demonstrate your ability to be professional while maintaining your wild creativity.)
· Opening: If you have a referral from someone, mention it first. This places you on the ground of the agent’s mind and not just floating in the ether of the slush pile. If not, simply thank the agent for the opportunity to query him/her. Then, hit them with the genre, title, and word count of your novel, followed by the pitch line.
· Second paragraph encapsulates the main action of the plot, but doesn’t necessarily include the outcome (the synopsis includes how the book ends).
· The third paragraph is about you, your credentials, why you chose to query that agent, your platform (if you have one).
· Fourth paragraph is your contact info, and sign off.
August 28, 2013
Dear Ms. Agent,
PARAGRAPH ONE GREETING AND PITCH LINE: Thank you for the opportunity to query regarding my GENRE-SPECIFIC novel, TITLE, the story of MAIN CHARACTER, a woman trapped in a dull, meaningless existence until she finds a talking pickle on the streets of Chicago, which grants her three wishes.
PARAGRAPH TWO, OUTLINE OF MAIN PLOT: Pick up from the pitch line, expound on the main problem, and rising tension.
PARAGRAPH THREE, CONTINUE OUTLINE OF PLOT: Rising tension, things look hopeless, what will our hero do?
PARAGRAPH FOUR, MARKETABLITY, HIGH CONCEPT (IF THERE IS ONE)
NOVEL TITLE is a modern fairy tale set in Chicago. It is a layered, quirky novel like Comparable Title, blended with the surprise and adult humor of Second Comparable Title.
The novel was birthed out of my lifelong love of fairy tales, married to the memories of the summer I spent in Chicago working at a Kosher Deli. I make my home in the hills of Montana. LIST OF YOUR PAST PUBLICATIONS IF ANY, INCLUDING ROUGH SALES NUMBERS IF POSSIBLE, AND ANY AWARDS. THEN, YOUR PLATFORM: I blog regularly at www.myblog.com, which is linked to my popular Facebook page with 1,000,000 fans and growing daily. I have a huge Twitter following, and a professional website.
PARAGRAPH FIVE: Thank you for considering this query. (OR Thank you for considering this query and the first five pages below. OR whatever the agent website specifically asks for.)
My email is:
This is a simultaneous submission. (If it is)
I look forward to hearing from you.
Never email later asking if the agent will respond. Some agents have an automatic response emails that let you know the agency received your query. Most don’t. That’s too bad, but there’s nothing to be done. If you don’t hear back within a reasonable amount of time 3-8 weeks, move on.
There are a few agencies out there that ask for exclusive submission. If you go after one of those, be honest and wait out the exclusive submission, don’t send the query out to other agents.
Lots here, I know. Hit me with any questions you have regarding synopsis, pitch, and query letter. I’ll do my best to answer, and I’ll also rely on the collective wisdom of the Novel Matters writers, and readers.