I joked (here) about having “Query Letter Writer’s Block.”
If you need 500 words about the wonders of the paperclip, I’m your gal. Ask me to write a query letter and I get as far as, “Dear Scary Agent.”
If you ask me what my novel is about, I freeze. The most intelligent words I come up with are, “er, uh, hmmm, well, you see . . .”
I’m fairly bright (Hey you in the back. Quit sniggering.) and I know what my novel is about, but I get an uncomfortable version of writer’s stage fright when I talk about it. It is the strangest thing.
I can hear you yelling at your computer screen, “For Pete’s sake, Robin. There are hundreds of books published and articles on the Internet on writing query letters and how to pitch your book.” I know, I know. I’ve read every one of them. No help.
However, all of that changed when I attended the 2012 Writers Digest Conference. Phew.
Katharine Sands from the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency presented “Pitchcraft!” during one of the conference’s sessions. She boiled down how to pitch your manuscript to an agent in three elements. I now think and talk about my novel in a fresh and clear way. I hope her advice helps you too.
Place: Where and when does the story take place?
Person: Give a thumbnail sketch of the main character(s).
Pivot: What is the turning point in the story? What struggle causes the main character step off the path they are on and follow a new one? What did they learn? What transformation takes place?
Granted, this brisk formula doesn’t leave room for subplots and minor characters. There isn’t enough time in a 90-second pitch to cover everything and everyone.
Ms. Sands suggested pretending you are a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show to promote your newly published masterpiece. What questions would you want her to ask you about your book? Write them down and play the interviewer/interviewee game.
She wrapped up her lecture with, “The agent needs something to takeaway and remember about you and your manuscript.”
Easy peasy, right? Nope. It wasn’t for me the first 20 stabs at it. I would attack the first element, but by element two, I reverted to the old blah, blah, blah I used before. I forced myself to answer elements one, two, and three in bullet points and then, bingo, I saw what my story is about.
This formula worked for me when I pitched my book to Ms. Sands the next day of the conference. Nervy of me, right? But I figured that since I threw myself into the literary agents’ lion’s den, I might as well have a chat with the head lion. She, and the one other agent I pitched my novel to, asked me to send them partials.
Writing a query letter is a different beast than an in-person pitch, but they are related by marriage.
I’m curious . . . does this cut the “pitch-advice” clutter for you like it did for me?
P. S. No wonder we writers are a skittish lot . . . during a panel discussion at the conference,” an agent said, “If you aren’t published, you haven’t written a book. You’ve written a manuscript. If you aren’t published, you aren’t an author. You are a writer.” Rather snarky, don’t you think?
P. S. S. Thank you for the well-wishes while I’ve been attending to my dad. It means a lot to me.