There’s pitch language and there’s book-review language, and each has a unique vocabulary. Pitch language sells, but book-review language tells. If you’re working on your query letter, here’s a quick tip to help you keep the tone on track: Avoid using book-review language in your pitch.
Here’s a quick list of book-review vocabulary:
These descriptors and others like them, while wholly appropriate for book reviews and cover blurbs, should be avoided in your query letter. Why? There are two reasons.
First, when you tell an agent in your query letter that your manuscript is “a breathtaking page-turner full of juicy, spell-binding prose” and that your beta readers told you how “haunting and moving and tear-jerking” it was, the agent has no idea what your story is about. Your query letter’s pitch should be 100-percent focused on your story.
Can’t you do both? That is, why not pitch the story and also say a few glowing things about it?
Because (and this is the second reason) your query letter should be no longer than one printed page. It’s the equivalent of an old-school, ink-on-paper business letter. That’s not very long, which makes every line valuable real estate. The more lines you put to work immersing the agent in your story’s premise, characters, conflict, stakes, plot, and the like, the greater the likelihood they’ll be interested in reading your sample pages or requesting your full.
Your pitch is not a review you write about your own book. Once more for the back row, pitch language is sell copy, but book-review language is tell copy. The query letter, like back-cover copy, exists to sell. So keep that pitch focused on your story’s Five W’s to increase your chances of selling:
- Who is your character?
- What do they want? (Goal)
- Why do they want it? (Motivation)
- Why can’t they have it? (Conflict)
- What happens if they don’t get it? (Stakes)