(Just a note, this post is from our archives. Some references and links may be from past years.)
STATUS: Working though 245 emails in the inbox. You can’t hide from me!
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? DON’T STOP by Foster The People
An yet, writers always have some confusion on what is the difference between a pitch and a query. Seems like a good topic to tackle (as I can already see a myriad list of sub-questions within this topic).
Let’s start with the basics.
A query is a professional business letter that introduces your work to an agent or editor. These days, this letter is sent by email rather than snail mail. In the query letter, you will have something called a pitch paragraph. The query letter will also contain an introduction and the author’s bio or credentials. It will be one-page long.
A pitch is the verbal delivery of the main pitch paragraph from your query letter. In other words, you need to have a quick way to sum up the opening plot catalyst of your novel in a sentence or two while talking to someone. That way your audience gets a clear and immediate gist of what your novel is about.
Here’s a great example from a novel I just sold by David Ramirez called MINCEMEAT. It’s a good example because in this instance, I actually did something unique. I pulled out the pitch from the main pitch paragraph. I don’t always do that but I did so in this instance. Also, when I was in New York in May, I verbally PITCHED this work to editors using the one sentence pitch highlighted in pink.
Here’s my submit letter to editors–which in essence is the agent’s QUERY letter to editors (to draw a comparison to what writers are doing when they approach agents):
It’s pretty rare that I send an email about a manuscript submission that I can sum up in a one sentence pitch. Trust me, I tend to be wordier than that!
But here it is:
All that is left of humanity is on a thousand-year journey to a new home aboard one ship, The Noah, and this ship is carrying a dangerous serial killer.
Intrigued? I hope so. At its heart, the concept for this SF novel MINCEMEAT by David Ramirez is quite simple but what unfolds is layer after layer of complexity.
Since most editors prefer I don’t leave it at one sentence, here’s a little bit more about the manuscript:
Priss Dempsey is a City Planning Administrator on the Noah, a vessel carrying the last survivors of Earth on a thousand-year journey to a new home. She is equal parts psychic, economist, hacker and bureaucrat, a vital part of the mission, but her life seems to lose purpose after she experiences Breeding Duty. Kept asleep through the impregnation and birthing that all women are obligated to undergo, she still feels a lost connection to the child she will never be permitted to know.
Policeman Leonard Barrens approaches her with a request for hacking support in the unofficial investigation of his mentor’s violent death. Only Barrens knows that a crime has been committed because he came across the mutilated remains before Information Security could cover it up. To everyone else, the missing man was merely “Retired,” nothing unusual.
Their investigation takes them through the lost dataspaces in the Nth Web and deep into the uninhabited regions of the ship, where they discover that the answer may not be as simple as a Mincemeat Killer after all. And what they do with that answer will determine the fate of all humanity.
May I send this novel your way?
Next up, I’ll tackle the log line versus the pitch.
Creative Commons Credit: AJ CannTags: science fiction
Thanks for clarifying this, and MINCEMEAT sounds intriguing. I’ll definitely have to read this one!
Now I want to read that book!
Thanks for an informative post. It is interesting to read your submit letter to the editor.
An interesting premise. I’ll have to keep an eye out for that one. I have to say, I’m not that strong at teasing out the quick pitch paragraph so far.
What subject line would you suggest an unsolicited agent query letter use?
Thanks for the advice!
Ooh. The intrigue. I’ll have to check this one out. I can’t say no to serial killers 🙂
No matter how many query- and pitch-related posts I read, they continue to be helpful. If nothing else, I get a good example and some commentary on why something did or didn’t work. Let’s hope I can successfully apply that knowledge when my turn comes!
Also, I am really glad you just sold this novel, because I want to read it!
I love the premise of this novel! A serial killer trapped aboard a ship with all that remains of humanity? That was enough to make me buy this book. Throw in the rest of the pitch, and I’m hooked for sure. Looking forward to reading Mincemeat!
Hmm. I’ll be curious to see how this sells when the premise is nearly identical to Across the Universe by Beth Revis. I always wonder how publishers decide on a book that is similar to a book that’s already polular in the marketplace.
I know that no two stories are the same, but this is something I think writers legitimately worry about when thinking of whether they want to spend a lot of time writing a book that’s been done. I’d love to hear your advice on that topic someday.
Thanks for posting. 🙂
It’s nice to see my story in your post =)
Thanks again for all your past and future work, Kristin!
@Daniel, you had me worried for a minute, but I checked the wikipedia entry for Across the Universe and it’s more different than it may seem from the pitch =) Thanks too, by the way–it helps me answer one of the items I’ve been struggling with on the author questionnaire.
@David, that’s good to hear. I enjoyed Across the Universe and I’m sure I’ll like your story. Actually, when Kristin backs a YA book, I know it’s going to be amazing so I will eagerly look forward to the day yours is picked up and published.
If there is a good way to follow your progress, let me know. You must be very excited to be in such good hands.
Thank-you! I was confused by the two and there is a great deal of conflicting information out there, leaving me to make an educated guess. Nice to have my guess confirmed. Thanks again!
@Daniel, it’s all exciting!
So, among the differences I can talk about is that Mincemeat is not YA and though I haven’t read Across the Universe, I suspect my story is considerably darker based on some of the reviews I’ve read of ATU.
Hopefully, that doesn’t change your interest =)
Just sold … so when can we expect to find it in the stores? (I am interested.)
@David, I just found you on The Writing Caterpillar so now I can follow your progress. Very excited for you.
I am looking forward to this book. Sounds like a good story (much, much darker than Across The Universe which though is an OK book, is still very much a YA novel and hence very PG). I hope its not TOO long till its published.
Sounds intriguing. But Priss? Someone’s been watching Blade Runner too much….
Great stuff, Kristin! Thank you so much for posting this. I’d heard you were a very giving agent and the way you’ve shared your own letter to a publisher proves that. `Will definitely apply this advice, perhaps in my next query to your agency!
A happy Valentine’s Day salute to Dorothy Parker: There’s litlte in taking or giving, There’s litlte in water or wine:This living, this living, this living, Was never a project of mine.Oh, hard is the struggle, and sparse is The gain of the one at the top,For art is a form of catharsis, And love is a permanent flop,And work is the province of cattle, And rest’s for a clam in a shell,So I’m thinking of throwing the battle – Would you kindly direct me to hell? -Dorothy Parker