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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Nailing The Important Part Of Your Query Letter

Throughout the RMFW Conference in Denver last week, there were sessions/panels that touched on query letters and pitches. During an excellent workshop led by super-agent Kristin Nelson (who, by the way, is a fantastic speaker--the room was PACKED and I sat on the floor), conference-goers learned a big secret about the agenting world…


Ha, ha. All joking aside, we can’t possibly expect them to read every word of a query letter when they get stacks-upon-virtual-stacks of the things. The pitch paragraph/paragraphs are key. If those are good, the agent may peruse your intro paragraph and credentials, but without a solid plot communicated in a compelling manner…it’s not promising.

SO, what should be in a good pitch paragraph?

-Plot catalyst/inciting incident (this is the reason there IS a story—a phone conversation where Nancy finds out her boyfriend is royalty, Mrs. Hendrix gives Danny a bad grade and he’s going to have to mow lawns all summer, etc.—this should be in the first 30 pages of your manuscript or you need to seriously think about revising your beginning).

But back to the core of your pitch paragraph. You only need the first 30 pages of your novel because all cover copy is shaped around the main event (also called the inciting incident or in my terminology, the plot catalyst) that begins the novel and without it, the story could not move forward. In other words, the event must happen or you have no story to tell.” (K.Nelson, guest blog on The Lit Coach)

-Backstory elements (these are generally shunned if they’re too prevalent in a manuscript, but we were told it’s okay to put them in your pitch to give a little perspective)

-Supporting plot elements

-Character insights

-7 to 10 sentences total (includes plot catalyst, back story elements, other related plot elements, character insights)

Feel free to separate into two paragraphs for the pitch—three/four might be a stretch. If possible, insert some voice.

That's it. If you're only getting rejections, take a look at your pitch paragraph and see if it follows these guidelines. If not, you might want to think about revising.

*Interesting tidbit—it’s not necessary to start with your plot catalyst, it just needs to be in there somewhere. I kind of assumed it should start with the catalyst, but nope. Feel free to play around with the format, just keep it full of relevant information told in a way that’s easy to follow.

Last of all, to keep things in perspective, on Friday I posted about how a fantastic title can override a weak query. Also, some agents skip the query altogether and go straight for your sample pages (which is understandable), so go figure...gotta love this roller coaster ride. Hands up, everyone~ big ups and downs are a given, you might as well keep smiling and remember that you were the one who got in line. Be glad you were tall enough to make it on the ride. Weeeee! (okay, enough silliness, have a lovely week and I’ll see you on Friday).