Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sara: WriteOnCon's Perfect Your Pitch workshop: The Short Synopsis


The most important part of a query is the book pitch.  I tend to skip over any biographical information until I have read the short synopsis.  When I read a query I want to know quickly if I want to read the book.  That is it.  I will look at your credits/ MFA/ hobbies, if I like your pitch. Here are my thoughts on what you need to do to with your pitch to get a request:

WHAT YOUR SYNOPSIS SHOULD DO:

1. SET UP THE STORY/ GIVE US THE HOOK
Setting up the story will mean revealing much of the plot—but not every single thing that happens on every page. (And, please do not reveal the entire plot in the email subject heading which is alarming.)

The hook gets to the heart of the book.  It is what makes me want to pick up a book and what keep me reading. What will connect me to this story.

People often think of hooks as gimmicks—but a gimmick won’t keep a story together, won’t make someone keep reading.

2. INTRODUCE THE CHARACTER/S/ CONFLICT
Who is this story about? What is his or her conflict? What is the main conflict of the book?

If a pitch is all about the character or all about the set up/ world, but not about what happens to the character in that world, it is not telling us enough to keep reading.

3. ESTABLISH GENRE/ SETTING/ TONE/ VOICE
Often queries get very specific about the genre and audience, and this is fine, as long as you do not veer into marketing or get too specific, such as all 13 year old swimmers will want to read this or picking an age range that does not make sense for a market such as 2nd grade- 12th grade.

If there is a Sci-fi twist or it is dystopian or a fantasy, I think it can work well to set that up for the reader upfront.

I do want to know the age of the character, as in both MG and YA this is hugely important for the markets, and I want to know that you know your audience.

TONE and VOICE are extras, but are usually present in the best queries. If I can get a sense of the tone of the book and the voice from description, that is a plus.  That is not to say queries for humorous books should be funny, but I hope for a line or two in there that shows me that the book is funny.

WHAT YOUR SYNOPSIS MUST DO WHILE DOING THE ABOVE:

1. MAKE SENSE
Reread your query, get others to read it (especially people who have not yet read your book), read it out loud.  I am reading at least 30 queries a day, like most agents, and if I have to reread a sentence more than once, I get frustrated and I get disinterested.  Many do not make any sense at all.

It has taken me years to be able to truly write a pitch well.  Practice! I do not think writing a great query letter correlates to being a great writer.

Bad queries are for the most part the companions to bad books.  They are for books that are too long for a human to want to read, 600k words or so, are for the first book in a series of 20 volumes, are for a picture book about cocaine use, stories for all ages, etc.

The tragedy is bad queries for good books: queries that are confusing and sell a great book short because an agent tunes out. 

2. SHOW ME WHY YOUR STORY IS UNIQUE
This is not easy.  But even if your story is about a vampire or zombie or fairy and the market feels flooded with those stories, you have to fight for your book.  This does not mean telling me how much better your story is than the bestselling series about the above. This means writing a synopsis that will show me that this character and this world are different than what I have seen before.

3. MAKE ME WANT TO READ YOUR BOOK
This is about bringing all the above elements together.  The best pitches are short and sweet. They tell me the most important details about a character to make me want to know more, introduce the main conflict right off the bat, have a unique hook.

You want to tell me enough about the book that I have a sense of what it is, but you also want to leave me wanting more.  Check out book jackets, these are slightly different than pitches, but are a great learning tool.


And it is worth saying again, if query letters and synopses are not your strong point, that is OK. It is a learned skill for most of us.  If you struggle with it, keep practicing, and keep it simple. 

2 comments:

  1. * What a great post, Sara. Thanks! Will keep your words in mind while I keep practicing, in between revisions.

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  2. Thanks for the clear and helpful guidance. I looked back on some of my first queries - they were laughable, full of snooze material and a bit 'stalkerish'. Thanks to many blogs and loads of info on the web, I'm getting better. rob

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