Query Prickles: How To Write Your Submission Pitch

You’ve finished your book. Now what?
It’s the dreaded query letter time.
But how could I possibly cram the multi-layered plot, complex characters, 80k worth of words into one tiny paragraph?
Answer: You don’t.
Whaaaaatttt??
Understandably, authors get hung up on cramming all the details of their manuscript in their pitch, and at the same time throwing in vague cliche turns of phrase to make it sound more “exciting.” This usually results in a bloated and confusing blurb that reads more like a badly written synopsis. Try to let go of all that and focus on the sole reason for your pitch: you want to compel someone to read your pages.

How? Well, when you pick a book, or a movie, what is the reason you choose to experience that particular story? Because the blurb/trailer/pitch caught your interest.

As it’s better to teach by example, I’m using Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, because most of you have read/seen it, and those who haven’t, have heard enough about it to have an idea of what it’s about and who the major players are.

Now, think about all the themes of the story. Dystopian world as a result of environmental pollution, oppression of the poor by the rich, unequal caste systems, what is real love, feminism, the dissociation of humanity through reality TV, family, post traumatic stress, morality in the face of survival, body image issues, love triangle, and on and on. List the major characters, Katniss, Peeta, Gale, Haymitch, Effie, Cinna, Primrose, Rue etc. What are the major plot points; district with Gale, train to capital, presentation of the candidates, Peeta’s in love, Hunger Games begins, and so on.

Okay, with all those details swarming in your head, here’s the blurb on the back cover of the book:

  • In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

How many details made it into the pitch? Notice not even Peeta is mentioned, nor is the fact that Katniss is an amazing hunter. The mockingjay is missing, as is President Snow and Haymitch. Nothing indicates the multi-layered complexity of Collins’ world. It simply offers a taste of the story with the hope that you will order the whole dish.

So learn by example. Find and read twenty-plus back covers of books that fall in the same genre as yours. (Browsing Goodreads or your local bookstore is great for this.) Choose your favorites, the ones that really intrigued you, and mimic their style. Practice.

This will hone your eye. The more you mimic, the more natural pitch-writing will feel. And just as all the other aspects of your story evolved and became better with time, so will your pitching.

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