STATUS: I’m getting a little peeved with Comcast broadband. This is the second day in a row that my internet service has gone down at the office. There is construction going on behind my building. Makes me wonder if a backhoe has dug too deep. Let’s hope not.
What’s playing on the iPod right now? TRAIN IN VAIN by The Clash
Tonight is about testing my pitch paragraph hypothesis. I do believe that you can write a very enticing query pitch simply based on the first 20 or 30 pages of your novel. All you need to do is spotlight the main event that triggers the rest of the story.
Now on to an example the most everyone has read (and probably owns the book so they can pick it up and give it a look.) And don’t worry, we’ll be tackling a variety of genres and novels over the next few days.
Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone (or for the UK version, Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone).
What is the main event that happens within the first 20 or 30 pages of the novel that then launches the reader into everything else that will unfold? Easy. Harry, who has been living in a closet as the unwanted foster son of the Dursleys, gets a letter inviting him to attend Hogwarts where he then discovers he’s the most famous wizard known to the wizarding world because he survived an attack from the dreaded Voldemort.
Pick up the novel and give it a quick skim. All of the above unfolds in those first chapters. Now check out the cover flap (and no, I don’t have access to Rowling’s original query letter so I have no idea how she pitched it). You don’t need that. Writing good cover copy works just as effectively for the pitch.
So a quick flip to the cover flap reveals the following copy:
“Harry Potter has never been star of a Quidditch game, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground. He knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility. All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son Dudley—a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry’s room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in eleven years. But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives announcing that Harry has been chosen to attend Hogwarts, an elite school for the training of wizards and witches…” (front flap, Arthur A. Levine Books)
Now let’s analyze it:
1. It’s five sentences only.
2. The first sentence sets the tone and the mood by highlighting what Harry Potter has not done in this world the author is creating (which is a nice introduction to Rowling’s world building by the way). Same with the second sentence.
3. The third and fourth sentence highlights what he has known—which isn’t that bright a picture (which makes him instantly sympathetic).
4. The last sentence highlights the event (the catalyst if you will) that will launch the story.
We don’t need much else. We are already intrigued. Now maybe you could have added a sentence that hinted at the evil of Voldemort and how Harry is famous for being the only wizard to survive an attack (and that could ratchet up the initial story tension if you want to hint at the danger that is about to unfold). It’s not absolutely necessary though.
The ending is certainly not mentioned.
Remember, a pitch is a teaser paragraph with the sole purpose of getting an editor or an agent to ask for more sample pages because they just have to read on.