Pub Rants

Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part Four Redux–INK EXCHANGE)

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STATUS: TGIF and I’m totally rockin.” I finished a requested changes letter for one contract and I’m tackling another. I might be out of here before 6 tonight!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TIDE IS HIGH by Blondie

Okay, you guys are going to hate me for pointing this out but it’s true. Those who commented had different opinions on the effectiveness of the cover copy used for INK EXCHANGE.

Some thought it would make you pick up the book. Others thought that it was too vague and general.

Yep, you’re starting to think like agents. This is why the biz is so subjective. This is why your query pitch will often work for one agent and not another. We all have different opinions and tastes.

Still, trying to make your query pitch read like the back cover copy of the book is worth doing. Why? Because the cleaner and sharper it sounds, the better chances you’ll have to win an agent’s attention—because we are used to reading back cover copy. The rhythm, the strategy, it speaks to us.

So no, even if you totally rework your query pitch to read like back cover copy that doesn’t mean it will be effective 100% of the time because what agents like individually will vary.

But I guarantee that agents will probably read the pitch twice and hesitate over it. I can’t prove it but I think if copy reads well, that alone gets our attention. Even if the storyline doesn’t float our boat per se.

Plot Catalyst
You guys did a great job on this cover copy. All of you spotted the catalyst right away: Leslie getting the tattoo sets the stage for the rest of the story to unfold. I’m willing to bet this occurs in the first 30 pages of the novel, but I haven’t read this book yet so I don’t know for sure. If anyone has seen an early copy, feel free to verify whether that is true or not.

Supporting Detail to Hone the Pitch
This is a combo of back-story (for paragraph 1) and character development with a little hint of other plot elements (paragraph 2). So all three were used.

Paragraph 1 is all back-story. Chances are good the copy editor chose this as INK EXCHANGE is a sequel to a previously published book. We need a sense of what happened in book 1 to orient us for this novel.

Paragraph 2 starts with character element. We get a sense of Leslie’s need for something different in her life. In fact, we think she might be desperate for that change. The last two sentences of that paragraph highlight some other plots elements that are going to be crucial to the story. She’s going to be bound with Irial and drawn in to the faery world.

Since he’s on the dark side (nod to paragraph 1 for that info about his ruling the “dark” court), we can make some assumptions. Words like “sinister” help with this. This bonding, this being drawn in could have dire consequences.

Now, several of you complained that it was too vague. Not enough details. Remember, you only have so much space on a back cover copy. You also might not want to give too much of the surprise, twist, or the storyline away.

Your pitch is just a teaser. Although there is room for a bit more detail, it may or may not always be necessary. And opinions will always vary from person to person.

You can’t worry about that (otherwise that would drive you crazy). Just worry about making the pitch paragraph as enticing as possible using the methods we are outlining here.

7 Responses

  1. Janice said:

    That’s interesting and I had heard that an agent get frustrated if there isn’t enough infro in the query letter.

    The rule was don’t tease the agent they don’t like that.

    Let me get this straight “Your pitch is just a teaser?” So I can write a tease of a query letter and it’s okay?

    Interesting, hmmm.


  2. Julie Weathers said:

    You can’t worry about that (otherwise that would drive you crazy). Just worry about making the pitch paragraph as enticing as possible using the methods we are outlining here. ~

    Thank you. I was to the point of sticking my head in an oven over the query, but I have an electric oven.

    In my case, if I tried to hit all the high points it would be a novella. A friend distilled it down to a few sentences and it does sound like a teaser, but I think it works.

    It might irritate some agents, but it’s impossible to include more.

  3. Julia Weston said:

    This post helped me. Now I see that it’s about choosing the right query strategy for my manuscript, not finding the perfect query formula (which, apparently, doesn’t exist). And I thought writing the book was hard! Thank you.

  4. beth said:

    Kristin–have you ever thought of doing a pitch/query critique of some of our works? I know it’s been overwhelming for some agents who offered to do this on their blogs, but you could set a limit, like any random ten in your comments or something. I have learned a lot from seeing what is being done right on the backs of book covers, but I learn just as much, if not more, on what is being done wrong by the hapless, unpubbed writers like me!

  5. Caitlin said:

    Kristin, how many words is 30 pages? Having never seen my manuscript in book format, I’m having a hard time figuring out where that plot turning point is in terms of words.

    In regards to the query letter being like a teaser, do you think it makes a difference if you are sending just a query letter or if you are sending sample pages as well? I know that depends on what the agent wants and it seems that most, but not all, US agents want just a query letter.

    But here in the UK, it’s standard to send the first three chapters, along with the query letter and in some cases a synopsis as well. I would imagine that it’s more acceptable to “tease” in a query letter, if you are spelling out the full story in a synopsis anyway and then providing a sample of the work.

    I met a UK agent recently and he said he always looks at the sample pages, not just the query letter. He might stop after a page or so if it’s just not working for him – but he’ll judge it as much on the writing as the query letter.

  6. Anonymous said:

    I think I’ve seen too many books where the back cover copy is not truly representative of the content within. They sound jazzy on the outside, but inside someone’s added a little too much tuba and not enough cowbell.

    The ones that turn me off completely are the ones that utilize too many character and place names on the back cover… especially when all of the words and places are entirely phantasmagorical in nature.

    “On the plains of Rhyzzh, near the Temple of Bora’Mantua, young Driz learns that he is the last surviving son of the line of Shua McGuu, an ancient race of Trilla Warriors charged with the safety of the Mar Crystal. Can Driz, his friends Trindle the Wel’Na, Grak of the Blah blah blah, waa waa waa waaahh…”

    When I see that kind of stuff on the back cover, I instantly put it down. I understand that I may have missed out on some good reads, but if there’s that much on the back cover, what is it going to be like on the inside? Fantasy books are the worst offenders in this category, because even now, people are still looking at Tolkien with misty, watery eyes and saying, “That’s how you do it, mate!”

    I think I go for reasonably simple copy, selling the plot and the dominant trait of the main character. At this point in my life, I think I would instantly buy a book with this as the back cover copy:

    “In this novel you’ll find-
    – A two-fisted, oversexed hero who never says die!
    – A heroine as deadly as she is beautiful, with a secret that will actually knock your socks off!
    – Starships! Starfighters! Teleporters!
    – Aliens that eat humans for breakfast!
    – Mutated, winged teenagers with laser swords and 44 magnums!
    – A villain who’s never heard the words ‘over-the-top’!”

  7. Caitlin said:

    Hi Kristin, I would love to know your thoughts on my questions above if you get the chance. I know you are v. busy!