Pub Rants

Category: pitch blurbs

(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):

Hello XXX,
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?

All Best,
Kristin

Next up, I’ll tackle the log line versus the pitch.

 

Creative Commons Credit: AJ Cann

A Quick Look At Tag lines

STATUS: Come on rain! Don’t just be cloudy and not give it up. Pour gosh darn it!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? PUMP IT UP by Elvis Costello

I’m getting ready for tonight’s workshop so I’m reviewing all the tag lines submitted by the workshop attendees. I asked all participants to submit one sentence as a baseline. So we can do a before and after during the workshop–which is often fun to see.

In other words, I don’t expect everyone to have nailed that tag line. It’s often hard to nail your plot catalyst in one sentence–especially if you’ve never really done it before. Hence the workshop.

But in reading them in prep, I can give my blog readers a bit of insight into what I think these attendees are struggling with. In the workshop, I’m going to clearly explain how to nail a plot catalyst tag line and then how to build your query pitch around that–using three different approaches.

Problem 1: The writer is trying to summarize the novel in the tag line.

Wrong use for it. You just want to nail your plot catalyst. But great, we’ll talk about it tonight.

Problem 2: The writer is relying on reader’s previous knowledge of a story or fairytale.

Not a bad starting point but it’s not going to be quite enough to carry the cornerstone of your pitch. Will work on that tonight.

Problem 3: The writer highlights two necessary elements of the story but alas, in the tag line, they don’t have a relation or a cause and effect so mentioning both doesn’t quite make sense.

In other words, one doesn’t necessitate the other. I’ll just need to point that out and I think this writer will get it.

And there’s still time to sign up if you want to join us! Just click here. I’ll be getting the tag lines soon for any day registers. However, we are going to close the class in an hour or two so if you want to join in, don’t delay.

Fridays With Agent Kristin: Episode 7 – What is A Plot Catalyst?

STATUS: TGIF! I actually had a great work week. Yes, I  need to read some stuff over the weekend but I’m feeling almost caught up. This means I’m forgetting something huge I’m sure.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? YELLOW by Coldplay

Okay, so I taped this segment a couple of weeks ago. I’m particularly fond of how I start with “good morning.”

Oh well, the content is still good.

In honor of the first video webinar I did (which tackled how to craft the query letter pitch paragraph in your novel), I thought I’d give some tips for those who couldn’t attend.

When I teach writers how to craft the perfect pitch paragraph for their query letters, it all starts with the plot catalyst.

So what exactly is it? I answer that question in today’s vlog. Enjoy!

Pub Rants University Begins!

STATUS: In glorious Italy. Such yummy food.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? MARLENE ON THE WALL BY Suzanne Vega

If you are an NLA eNewsletter subscriber, you got the skinny early at the beginning of the month and first dibs on the workshop spots. Now I’m giving my blog readers a chance to register.

In 2012, I have six conferences lined up already. I can hardly believe it myself! And at these conferences, I’m schedule to give my forever popular query pitch workshop and the infamous Agent Reads The Slush Pile workshop where I graciously rip to bits the opening pages of manuscripts. Writers just love this one, which convinces me that you folks are gluttons for punishment.

And I imagine that over the years, one or two of my blog readers have longed to attend one of these workshops but have never had the opportunity.

Well, if that person is you, then listen up. On March 29, 2012, I’m launching Pub Rants University and will be offering our first online video webinar called Goodbye Slush Pile! The Secret of How to Write The Perfect Query Letter Pitch Paragraph for Your Novel.

Try and say that three times fast…

This is a video webinar, not just audio, so you’ll get a chance to see my lovely mug for a whole 90 minutes. Not to mention, you’ll even be able to ask questions during the workshop. It’s like Fridays With Kristin for a whole 90 minutes. On second thought, I’m not sure I can put up with myself for that long…

But if you are interested, here’s what you’ll learn.

-How to structure your query letter
-How to identify your plot catalyst
-How to boil 300-plus pages of a novel into one pithy pitch paragraph
-The 4 main approaches to building your pitch paragraph around the plot catalyst
-Real examples of what works and why
-Real examples of what doesn’t work and why
-Submit of your first draft tag line

Click Here to find out more details and to register. As I don’t want the workshop to be too big and unwieldy, the number of attendees is limited so keep that in mind!

Fridays With Agent Kristin: Episode 6 – Pitch versus The Synopsis

STATUS: On plane in just a few hours to head to Italy. There might not be much blogging next week.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? YELLOW by Coldplay

Scheduling this post so hope it works correctly!

I’m going to lay to rest, once and for all, the difference between a pitch and a synopsis.

Okay, that’s a little grandiose but you get the picture.

Enjoy!

Not The Right Question

STATUS: Do I dare ‘fess up that we listened to the XM Holly holiday station all day? Is it too early? I know I’ve already dived into many an eggnog chai…

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WINTER WONDERLAND by Jason Mraz

As I sit here contemplating the great mysteries of the universe… Okay, in reality I’m really just sitting here having a relaxing glass of wine. Still, even though it’s not a great universal mystery, I puzzle over why journalists always ask this question during an agent interview:

What is the single most common mistake that turns you off of a query letter?

I puzzle over this Q because it strikes me that writers are looking for a magic silver bullet in the answer–as if it’s only an errant comma or grammar mistake keeping the agent from falling in love with the query and asking for sample pages.

In truth, there isn’t a single most common error that puts me off a query letter. Anything that I can list here (such as addressing the letter to the wrong agent, submitting a project in a genre we don’t rep, writing the email without periods or capitalization) are all issues that immediately weed out the wheat from the chaff.

If you are serious about this biz, those query letters are not the ones you should worry about. It’s the queries that are close but no cigar that are your competition. In other words, decent queries, well-written, and actually make us read the whole letter.

We still might pass on asking for sample pages but we gave the letter serious consideration. The rest are non-contenders.

So the real question is out of those queries, what is the single most common mistake that turns us off a query letter?

The answer is there is none. Because these queries are well written and unique enough, we read them. Why we still pass can’t be summed up into a neat little list that writers can then checkmark off the “turn-offs” to make sure their queries will pass the muster.

It’s never about one thing in the letter. It’s about every facet of the query letter as a whole. And even then, if you put the same good query letter in front of 10 different agents, all 10 of them might have a different response. And some would ask for sample pages and the others wouldn’t.

It’s this unknown factor that drives writers crazy.

After 200 Webinar Pitches…Take 2

STATUS: Heading out early to meet with tax accountant.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THE SWEETEST TABOO by Sade

Sara was in the office today so we put our heads together on a couple of other tidbits of feedback we gleaned from the all the pitch critiques we did.

Here are a couple of other culprits we discovered while critiquing that would have made us pass had we not being doing that editorial input.

1) Too much emphasis on the world building without giving equal weight or emphasis to the story and the characters in it.

2) Mechanics of the writing was unpolished—as in there were syntax and obvious grammar errors within the pitch itself.

3) Vague descriptions such as: “suddenly a new discovery threatens everything INSERT CHARACTER NAME holds dear.” The problem is that such grand but vague statements don’t tell the reader anything. It’s like saying “this restaurant serves food.”

4) We couldn’t understand the world because the description was unclear. (By the way, we debated whether this fits under “convoluted plot” of yesterday’s entry but we don’t think so it. It feels separate.) You have to choose the right details about your world in the pitch because you can’t explain everything. You can only highlight an element or two that will stand out as unique about the world.

5) Writers who made up a name for a creature or an element but didn’t include any explanation of what it was in the pitch so it didn’t have context. This leads to confusion.

That’s all she wrote folks.

More Sade music on iLike

After 200 Webinar Pitch Critiques…

STATUS: ! I think that exclamation point says it all.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? ISN’T IT ROMANTIC by Rod Stewart

I can unequivocally give my blog readers the #1 culprit of why pitch paragraphs in adult or children’s SF&F query letters miss.

Drumroll please….

Convoluted plot that can’t be followed in the pitch paragraph.

Interestingly enough, in the presentation itself, I gave the missing plot catalyst as the# 1 reason for why we pass. Convoluted description of the plot was #3. I might have to revise that!

Post webinar, most participants got the concept of “inciting incident” or main plot catalyst pretty clearly; it was building the rest of the pitch paragraph that proved tough. I think everyone who submitted a pitch to be critiqued got a sense of just how hard it is to create a good one.

A bit of advice? Your pitch is not something you want to go it alone on. You need feedback and from a variety of sources. If you learn nothing else from that session, take that tidbit away with you.

And because I’m a nice person, I’m going to share my Top 10 list for blog reading edification.

KRISTIN’S TOP 10 LIST OF WHY ADULT AND CHILDREN’S SF&F QUERY LETTERS GET A REJECTION

Reason 10: Generic descriptors of the story

Reason 9: Overkill on World Building details and not enough about the story itself.

Reason 8: Explaining that unlike already published SF&F novels, your work has character development

Reason 7: Popular trends (such as Vampires, Werewolves, or Zombies) with no unique take clearly spelled out in pitch

Reason 6: No mention of or insight into the characters who will be driving the story

Reason 5: The manuscript is 250,000 words (or more!) and this is unpublished, debut author

Reason 4: The work is called SF&F but it sounds more like a mystery or thriller or something else.

Reason 3: Convoluted Plot that I can’t follow in the pitch paragraph

Reason 2: SF&F stereotypical archetypes as the “hook”
–the mysterious object
–the unexpected birthright
–the quest
–the villain that has risen again
–exiled to another planet
–mayhem on spaceship to new planet
–Androids with heart of gold
–The main character as the key to saving the world or species
–the just discovered talisman

Reason 1: No hook—or mention of a plot catalyst that is new or original in this genre

Kristin Goes Webinar

STATUS: It’s really time to go home now…

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? IS SHE REALLY GOING OUT WITH HIM? by Joe Jackson

Should be interesting.

Sometimes I wonder how I get roped into these things! Chuck Sambuchino from Writers Digest has been bugging me for a while to come and teach a webinar for them.

I haven’t really been tempted until now. What changes is that I feel an overwhelming need to help out writers in the SF&F field. I know I’ve mentioned this before on my blog but the SF&F community has wonderful Cons that cater to fans more than to the business side of publishing. In consequence, often the writers in the SF&F realm are a little at loose ends on how to do things like write good query letter pitch blurbs for their SF&F novels. Seriously, the queries we get for this genre tend to be the weakest we see.

This is a problem we NEVER have in the romance field as RWA probably goes the other extreme in terms of educating writers!

Next month is MileCon here in Denver and sure enough, we proposed some business-y stuff and not much came of it.

So then Chuck touched base and I thought, here’s an opportunity…. Taught by yours truly.

And folks, unlike my blog, this webinar is not free—as it’s through Writers Digest but if you are interested, here are the deets. Click here for more info and to sign up.

How to Write and Sell Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

This is an intensive workshop on the “how-to” business side of getting your science fiction and fantasy (SF&F) writing published, whether for teens or adults.

Description
We here at Nelson Literary Agency are actively looking to expand our roster of science fiction & fantasy (young adult and adult fiction) authors but frankly, the queries we receive in this genre could use some help. Our agency sees a ton of SF&F queries, for both YA and adult novels, and 90% of them sound completely generic. We can teach you how to make your novel stand out.

Each registration comes with access to the archived version of the program and the materials for 1 year.

About the Critique & How it works
After the session, all registrants can submit their revised pitch paragraph (no more than 12 sentences) for a quick critique by Kristin Nelson. Who knows, you might even get a request for sample pages out of it.

What you’ll learn:

• How to compose your query: The top 10 reasons why most SF&F query letters fail
• How NOT to start your story: The top 10 things that shouldn’t open an SF&F novel
• What agents and editors want: What agents and editors look for in terms of pitch, writing, and book premise
• How to pitch: How to nail the story’s hook, and nail the elements of your world-building in the short pitch paragraph

Who should attend?

• SF&F fans who are interested in writing a novel.
• SF&F Writers who want to improve their pitches and hooks
• SF&F Writers who are actively querying agents and publishers with their science fiction or fantasy novel.

Gail Carriger’s Query Letter—Part II

STATUS: Uh, I have 310 emails in my inbox and I handled at least 50 today. More came in. Oh boy.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? OPERATOR by Jim Croce
(listening to some of Dad’s favs)

One of the reasons why I approached this query letter a little differently than previous discussions was to show blog readers that a variety of approaches in a pitch blurb can work.

There isn’t just one way to write that paragraph and have it work. I know y’all want the silver bullet that will assure your query letter the attention it deserves but as you can see from the list of comments left on yesterday’s entry, readers had different opinions on which one worked best for them.

And in actuality, both are good, strong pitches—but in different ways. So let me talk about that.

When I wrote my pitch paragraph, I remember that I didn’t have Gail’s original query handy. She resent it to me later so that I could have it on file. Since time was of the essence for the submission, I went ahead and created my paragraph from scratch.

Usually I take the author’s original query pitch as the genesis—the jumping off point for creating my pitch. That way I’m doing a blending of the author’s tone and approach with my own. I didn’t have that for this letter and I wanted to point that out.

For me, I wish I had the line “It is a romantic romp through the streets of Victorian London, from high society to the steam punk laboratories of Frankenstein-like scientists” for my letter. I think it’s the perfect sentence to establish the tone.

Alas… I didn’t so I went to my fall back (which a commenter pointed out) which was to describe the inciting incident that starts the novel. This also has the added benefit of allowing me to describe the world without having to do a lot of telling.

“When avowed spinster Miss Alexia Tarabotti is attacked by a vampire at a private ball, she’s simply appalled. No vampire worth his salt would ever jeopardize his rank in society by attacking her so vulgarly in a public place.”

Without my saying so, the reader gets immediately that vampires are accepted and simply a part of the society in this world. An attack at a ball would be an oddity. See what I’m doing here?

Then I jump into back story because the key to understanding this novel is Alexia’s unique character element of being soulless.

“Not to mention, every vampire knows that she’s soulless and therefore contact with her will negate all supernatural ability. Poof! No more immortality. Vampires know to avoid her like the plague.”

This allows me to highlight even more why this vampire attack is strange.

Now in Gail’s query, she starts with Alexia’s soulless state—which also works.

“Alexia Tarabotti was born without a soul. This affliction could be considered a good thing, for in England those with too much soul can be turned into vampires, werewolves, or ghosts.”

She’s setting up how the world works. Then she hits on the conflict.

“Unfortunately, when unregistered vampires start to mysteriously appear in London, everyone thinks she’s to blame, including the Queen’s official investigator, Lord Maccon.”

Ah, folks think Alexia is responsible. That’s a problem. Notice that Gail didn’t really explain why Alexia’s soulless state is an issue (because it negates the supernatural). I, however, did in my pitch because I thought that info would be key to understanding the world. On the flip side, I didn’t mention in my pitch that Alexia is presumed to be to blame (and looking back, I should have).

Now Gail tackles the light tone and sets up for some romantic tension in next line:

“In such a situation, what’s a young lady to do but grab her parasol and find out what’s really going on? Of course Lord Maccon might object, but Alexia doesn’t give a fig for the opinion of a werewolf, or does she?”

Gail does a great job of lightly eluding to a possible romantic entangle. I didn’t touch on that at all in my pitch—mainly because I wanted this manuscript be seen as steampunk fantasy—even though it leans paranormal romance a bit. I focused solely on Alexia for that reason. I only wanted to tease the editor enough to be intrigued and read on. My wrap up keeps the storyline deliberately vague.

“Which means that this is no society vampire and since no vampires can be made without the proper paperwork, this vampire is a rogue. No simpering miss, Alexia is delighted to try to find out the particulars but she just may get more than she bargained for.”

Now rereading this, I probably should have phrased that second line “this is a rogue vampire.” Oh well, I’m not perfect. Grin.

As for the last line “If the author Jane Austen were to have written a vampire novel during her lifetime, SOULLESS would have been it,” I included it because that’s exactly how this novel struck me.

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies had not been released yet. I didn’t know a thing about that novel and how successful it would be, but Austen stuff has been hot for a while and since this had that feel, I wanted to highlight it as a selling point. Thus the last line.

It worked! And anybody who reads SOULLESS knows exactly what I’m talking about.
So there you have it—anatomy of two pitch blurbs.

TGIF! I’m out.