Tag Archives: query

Novel Pitching Made Easy

*taps glass*

I have an announcement.  A discovery, actually.  An epiphany that will make pitching your novel easy peasy.

Dear Daughter has been away at speech camp.  Yeah, they actually have such a thing, and it’s more rigorous than one can imagine.  Just last night, she had a four-hour-long, one-on-one coaching session from 7 to 11 pm.  That’s coming off a 7am start and a jam-packed day of speech prep.  Day five.

After a midnight text exchange–with her bouncing intro ideas off me–and another text session beginning at five thirty this morning, we finally pinned down her introduction.

And guess what?  It’s an awful lot like pitching your novel.  In theory, anyway.

The pitch (aka, DD’s speech intro) has the sole purpose of intriguing our potential agents/editors/readers.  We have, like, twelve seconds to nab their attention.  Gnats live longer than the attention spans of those we are pitching to.

A dry summary of our book is not gonna do it.  Five words in and our potentials will be wondering who’s going to text them next, or what they’re going to eat for lunch, or why we’re wasting their air space with useless words. 

The pitch has to grab them from word one, pull them into the story and make them want to read.  The last thing we want them to think is, “So what?  Why should I care?”

 And that’s exactly what DD’s speech coaches said yesterday with every intro she brought to them.  “So what?  Why should I keep listening to you?”

Ouch.

But for me, it really hit home, and I learned a thing or two that could help you when writing your pitch–whether it’s for a pitch conference or the beginning hook of your query letter.

Here’s what I think I know about the elusive pitch.

  • A pitch has to stand out from the crowd.  At a speech tourney, the judges hear dozens of speeches throughout the day.  In the writing world, agents and editors receive dozens–if not hundreds–of queries a day.  If they all started exactly the same…well, I don’t need to expound on that.
  • A pitch has to make a personal connection, whether through content, voice or unique phrasing.  At a speech tourney, it’s easy to let your mind wander to the clock, the glass of water in front of you or what the speechie is wearing.  In the writing world, it’s even easier to hit the delete key and move on to the next query that doesn’t hold your attention.
  • A pitch has to flow.  Every word must roll together, like a wave drawing a swimmer away from the shore.  It must be fluid and lyrical, and above all else,  crystal clear.  The minute you leave a speech judge or an editor scratching his head, wondering what in the heck you just said, you’ve lost your forward momentum.

…and the things that might help when writing one.

  • Find a unique bent.  First, sum up your novel in a few words.  (DD’s speech novel: it’s about a girl who gets addicted to drugs, is depressed and struggles to find herself.)  This theme is tired.  Hibernate for the winter exhausted.  So, your next step is to absolutely pin down what makes your novel different. (The loss of morality and the ease in which we can lose our moral compass.  How easy it is to blur the lines until they are so wide we no longer see what is wrong.)
  • Make a connection.  Consider your audience.  Why are you pitching them?  What makes each agent a good fit for your book?  Why will your future readers want to read your novel?  Once you uncover the nature of your audience, you can begin to make your pitch relevant.  In the case of DD’s speech: we have all blurred our moral lines.  Even I swiped a cute little butter dish from a restaurant once because we forgot a water dish for our puppy.  Not a proud moment, but relevant in context of DD’s speech.  If I were an agent, editor or judge at a tourney, my attention would be grabbed by a pitch that brought to light my own guilt.  Suddenly, I have an interest in hearing about the downward spiral from a simple misstep to a life of addiction and pain.
  • Make your words sing.  For speeches and pitch conferences, we literally speak out loud to our audience.  Our words must be fluid and  fresh.  They must entice us with their rhythm and leave little doubt in our mind about the message we are presenting.  In queries, we must show potential readers that we are capable of creating solid prose on paper with no words wasted.  Our written voice must be as compelling as our spoken one.

Consider these two versions of DD’s intro.

We all make mistakes, and when we do, the consequences can be devestating.  Crossing a moral line can lead to drug use and alcohol addiction.  This is what happened to (insert author’s name) in (insert title here). 

versus

Have you ever felt your morals slip?  Taken one step to the left of the line when you should have gone right?  It starts innocently enough.  A kiss that lasts too long—who was that guy anyway?  One drink too many or a quick toke on a MaryJane—after all, pot’s not a gateway drug.  Or how about that super cool glass at the restaurant?  Yeah, you know the one.  It’s in your cupboard now. 

Have you ever felt your morals slip?  If you have, watch out for the downward spiral.  It happens.  Drugs, alcohol, theft and one bed too many.  Before you know it, you’re addicted, (insert title here that actually flows with the sentence), a memoir by (insert authorn).

See what a difference word choice makes?

Have you ever pitched your novel live?  If so, share your tips for success.  Query writers: have you ever taken your audience into consideration when writing your query?  I mean really paid attention to who they are and what they like so you can connect with them better?

Curious minds want to know.

What base is your novel on?

As many of you know, Middle Son loves baseball.  The first half of the season was a series of whiffs and misses at the plate.  Sometimes he’d simply watch the ball go by and not swing at all.  Enter the glasses a few weeks ago, and he’s been getting better. 

I think it took him a little time to get acclimated to his new specks and relearn his depth perception.  After all, his eyes had lied to him before and he had to adjust to the land of the seeing.  Over the course of the second half, he’s gotten increasingly more skilled at timing the pitches.

Last night he was up three times in the batting order.  He had two beautiful hits and struck out once.  His second hit sailed through the gap between shortstop and third base and had to be chased down in left field.  By the time he slid into second base, three of his teammates had made it home, tying the game. 

Oh, how a grand slam would have been awesome.  Ultimately, it would have won the game if he could have smashed one to the fence.  Yet, Middle Son is teeny for his age and he’s been relearning to use his eyes.  His hit was a victory in and of itself.

Writing is like that. 

Not every novel has to be a grand slam.  Sometimes we write simply to learn.  We practice our mechanics and experiment with our voice and style.  We learn the nuances of the business and apply this knowledge to our writing.  Along the way, we see the results and position ourselves for a run. 

CAT’S GUIDE TO LOADING THE BASES

  • Strike Out: those first 2,000 words that don’t go anywhere.  They are mere character sketches or inciting incidences written on the spur of the moment in response to events in our own lives.  While this feels like a miss, writing these snippets are essential to learning the craft.  They are practice for future projects.  And without practice, we would never learn to hit.  With luck, these characters or events work their way into other novels. 
  • First Base: finishing a novel.  It’s easy to start a story.  It’s not easy to reach the end of one.  And while finally getting a hit feels like a victory, it’s just the beginning.  Not all books that make it to first base cross home plate.  In fact, many do not.  Instead, they end up back in the dugout, cheering the next batter on.  Hitting a single in writing will always advance a runner (our writing skills) and is well worth our time.
  • Second Base: editing said finished novel.  This is a process often over-looked by beginning writers.  Edits may be rudimentary.  Nothing more than typo checks.  Yet getting a novel polished is much more than that.  It takes time and skill and a whole lot of patience.  Practice.  Practice.  Practice.  Sometimes we stand on second base forever before getting the guts to steal third.  Other times, our beloved manuscripts fall victim to a third out and we find ourselves back in the dugout awaiting our next time at bat. 
  • Third Base: querying/subbing.  I’m not talking about writing the query letter here.  I’m talking about sending it off.  Third base puts us in position to score a run.  It’s the one place in our journey that hurts the most.  We hover on third–debating whether our manuscript is ready–with home plate taunting us from mere yards away.  We can taste victory, but it’s not quite within our reach.  We’ve declared ourselves writers and put ourselves out there for others to accept or reject.  Once we get this far, we are largely at the mercy of agents, editors and the industry trends as a whole.  It is at this stage in the game that we often learn the maturity and grace of being a professional writer. 
  • Home Plate: securing a publishing contract.  We’ve put in the time and run the bases.  Whether we got there with one pitch or a painful series of them, we finally slide into home and earn our place in the writing world.  Someone, somewhere loved our writing enough to take a chance on it.  We have tangible evidence of our hard work.  Yet our work is not done.  We still have to practice.  We still have to edit and write and write and edit.  We market and socialize and learn, all while waiting to win the game.
  • Grand Slam: published novel in hand.  There is no need to expound on this.  However, I feel compelled to remind myself that hitting a grand slam does not mean the game is over. At some point, authors will once again face the pitching mound with a new novel. 

I’m not afraid to step up to the plate.  Strike outs don’t scare me.  Standing forever on third base does.  And the only way I can control that is to just keep swinging.

How about you?  Where are you standing at this moment in time?  Are you just starting  out and hoping for a single, or do you have your eye on home plate?  How many manuscripts has it taken for you to get this far?

 

New Driver On Board

One year ago to the day, Oldest took his driving permit test.  He seemed completely unruffled even though he hadn’t studied.  And with his dyslexia, I worried about him reading the questions wrong.  By the time we got to the courthouse, I was sick to my stomach.

I guess I should have just listened to him.  He passed as easily as if he had written the handbook himself.

Today is his 16th birthday.  For the past two days, I have been trying to get him to practice parallel parking in the car he would be driving for his test.  No dice. 

“I know how to parallel park.”

Not in this car.

“I’m fine, Mom.  I’ll pass.”

Egads, to have so much misplaced confidence.  No practice, no worrying, no obsessing. 

I know I don’t have to say it, but submitting our writing is waaaaaay different than this.  We do practice.  We write, we hone, we edit, we critique, we cringe, we rewrite, we re-edit and we cringe some more. 

Then, we sit anxiously by our e-boxes and gnaw our fingers to the knuckles.  Unless that’s just me…

Needless to say, Eldest passed his test with a stellar score.  He missed only five total points.  Not bad considering that he forgot to start the car on the way up to the courthouse and couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t shift out of park!

What is your state of mind when you submit a query?  Do you have confidence that your manuscript is ready to go, or are you afraid of knocking over a cone?  How do you prepare for submission?  By working extra hard or simply knowing that if you don’t have it figured out now, it’s never going to happen?

Introducing the UMTS for Writers

I ordered a book last week.  If you haven’t heard, TK Richardson’s debut novel, Return the Heart, was released earlier this month.  I’ve been waiting for this moment for the better part of a year. 

My book was supposed to arrive last week Friday.  However, a quick click on my UPS confirmation link confirmed that the very important package I was tracking would not arrive on time. The reason?  A late train.  At exactly 5:07am on Thursday.  Thanks to a pokey engineer, my book languished in the UPS station all weekend instead of on my nightstand.

I was bummed that I couldn’t read it, but thankful I knew where it was and when to expect it.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could track our manuscripts so easily?

A simple link to the Universal Manuscript Tracking System would make our lives so much easier.  We wouldn’t have to worry and fret over where our manuscripts were at any given time.  We would know with the click of a key.

  • Monday, June 21, query departure via email at 7:42am.
  • Monday, June 21, query entered agent’s spam box at 7:42am.
  • Monday, June 21, e-query resent at 7:43am.

Already the stress is washing away.  Our query reached its destination.

  • Thursday, June 24, agent read query at 6:19pm.

Aha!  We got a read.  No more wondering if Dream Agent was out sick with H1N1.  He’s in the office and ready to roll!

  • Thursday, June 24, agent requested a full at 6:39pm.
  • Thursday, June 24, sealed envelop and put full in mail box at 6:40pm.
  • Saturday, June 26, full delivered to agent’s desk at 4:28pm.

By Friday, July 30th, we would be going a little schizo with the old, wait-and-see method.  Did our manuscript get lost in the mail?  Did Agent Awesome get in a car accident?  Is his mother giving birth to twins at this very moment?  What in the green blazes can possibly be more important than the Next Great American Novel?

Enter the Universal Manuscript Tracking System and we would know that Wonder Agent’s plane had been delayed and he was still hanging out out the Zimbabwe airport awaiting the next flight home.   

Oh blessed, mercy.  Our manuscript is still in the running.  With UMTS we wouldn’t fret about the fate of our manuscript–maybe the agent, but not our writing.

Assuming Uber Agent arrived back in the States, UMTS would alert us the second our manuscript left his desk and landed at the round table during the weekly editor’s meeting.  We could track when the marketing department sketched out the sales potential.  A confirmation email would pop up on our desktop when Agent America popped our return letter in the mail.

Estimated time of arrival: August 28th at 11:34am.

Still too stressful?  Upgrade to PUMTS, the premium service, and receive a summary tracking form delivered on June 21st the second your query leaves your email.

  • June 21: resend query due to spam catcher.
  • June 24: please send your full via snail mail.
  • July 30th: don’t fret, agent stuck in Zimbabwe.
  • August 28: Agent response due.  Estimated time of arrival: 11:34am.

With UMTS we would only have to stress over our morning coffee on August 28th.  Which is much preferable to getting hives for two months straight every time the phone rings or the mailman passes by in his little blue uniform. 

Wonder how much the Universal Instant Response Manuscript Tracking System would cost?

UIRMTS Confirmation Response

June 21st: 7:43am

Dear Author,

Please note that you will receive a contract for representation via snail mail at 11:34 am on August 28th.  While this sounds like a long wait, our system informs us that you will need to resend your query due to Greatest Agent Ever’s spam filter.  In addition, you will need to send a full via snail on June 24th.  After a difficult time with international travel, Agent Incredible will return to the States in early August.  He will immediately send your manuscript on the editorial rounds and respectfully submit an acceptance letter as soon as humanly possible.

Thanks for using the UIRMTS.  It has been our pleasure in furthering your literary career.

Happy Monday~ cat