Sunday, April 12, 2009

Query Letters-Part II - the perfect pitch

Now that you know what your book is about, where it will be shelved, and who you are querying,
(See Part I on query letters.) it's time to craft the Pitch.

You have to think of your query letter as a five minute pitch session. (The very words "pitch session" turn most writers into a quivering mass of sweat and nerve. Relax we'll take it one step at a time.)

It is at this point that you have to really think like a marketing guru- or better yet an advertising executive. (Not like Darin from the old TV show "Bewitched" More like why they do on the show "Trust Me," and yes, sometimes copious amounts of drinking might be necessary--just kidding.)

To get into the right frame of mind, watch ten minutes of advertising on television, thumb through magazines and newspapers, play on facebook and google and -this is the important part-pay attention to the ads. What are they selling? How are they selling it?

The key here is to use a tag line. Think about the NY Times Bestseller list- each book on it has a tag line.

THE HOST, by Stephenie Meyer. (Little, Brown, $25.99.) One woman won’t surrender to the aliens who have taken control.
MALICE, by Lisa Jackson. (Kensington, $24.) A New Orleans detective is stalked by his dead first wife.

Your first task in marketing your book is to write this tag line. The rules are simple. Write a fifteen word or less sentence that tells your story premise. Use descriptors instead of names.

Here is the tag line for my current pitch- If The Shoe Fits, by Nancy J. Parra. A convention services manager discovers a fairy godfather who complicates her happy ever after.

You can tell from all three examples what the basic book premise is and what market it belongs to... read them over and think about it. Is it a romance? A mystery? Does it have paranormal elements? How do you know this?

Take your time- write out two or three of these for your books-tweak them. (Mine usually start out at 17 to 20 words and I cut and tweak to under 15.)

Save this info because you can use this as a simple pitch when you are at conferences, book signings and interviews. If someone asks you what you are writing- give them this statement. I bet they will ask to know more... versus holding them hostage by telling your entire story in twenty minutes while their eyes glaze over.

Write the tag line! Do it. It's good practice because when you sell your book- 9 times out of 10 you will be the one writing the tag line and the back blurb. When your editor asks for it, you'll already have it done.

The next step to writing your query is to write what amounts to a selling cover blurb. Think of the back blurb of your book. This part is intended to be an eye catcher with a hook. This is not a synopsis, but a marketing piece meant to encourage the agent/editor to ask to read your synopsis.

How do you do this?

Write three simple sentences that give your hero/heroine's goal, motivation and conflict. Then add a sizzling hook.

Following are some examples:

From C.J. Cherryh's Fortress of Eagles, EOS, 1998-

Tristen is both more and less than a man. A summoning, a shaping, he was brought to life by a wizard, to serve a king yet to be crowned.
Cefwyn had a dream: a united Ylesuin, and a peace this land had never known. Cefwyn needs his only friend, this young man of mysterious origins who is more brother than vassal.
He relies on Tristen, and trusts him though he knows not why, as he plans the war that will bring his dreams to pass...or bring ruin upon them all.

From Mary Margret Daughtridge's Sealed with a Kiss, Sourcebooks, 2008-

HE CAN HANDLE JUST ABOUT ANYTHING, EXCEPT THIS... Jax Graham is a member of an elite military team, but when it comes to taking care of his four-year-old son, he's completely clueless.
ONE PERSON CAN HELP HIM, IF HE'LL LET HER...Family therapist Pickett Sessoms knows just how to help a rough, tough Navy SEAL deal with a scared and lonely little boy, but not if he insists on going it alone.
When an outing turns deadly, Picket discovers what it means to be a SEAL, and Jax discovers that even a hero needs help sometimes...

From Nancy J. Parra's, If The Shoe Fits-

AN INDEPENDENT WOMAN… Joella St. John vows to be successful on her own to prove to herself and her family that she is not a failure. The last thing she wants is a fairy godfather telling her he can magically make everything all right.
A MAN ON A MISSION…R.J. Sinclair has only one job and that is to protect the Bennet family at all costs. When Wade Bennet decides he wants to marry Joella, R.J. does everything in his power to convince her the match is right-even though his heart is demanding that he keep this one for himself.
A FAIRYTALE GONE AWRY…There’s a fairy godfather, a handsome prince, a ball and a crystal shoe. But what happens when it’s not the prince who captures your heart?

Writing the tag line and pitch are probably two of the toughest things you'll do for your book. Trust me. I know how hard it is to take a 100,000 word story and create a compelling fifteen word sentence. But once you do this a couple of times, you'll start to get a solid feel for what your book is about. Why you are writing it and why you want people to buy it.

A good pitch can be written at the beginning of a book or the end of a book- depending on what works for you. Never skip this step. By having a tag line and a selling back blurb you show editors and agents that you are a professional, serious about selling your work and you give them something strong to take into meetings and help them sell your work.

Next week- Part III- Putting the letter together.


Morgan Mandel said...

Great advice, Nancy. I'll need to come back to this again later for reference.

Morgan Mandel

Jessica said...

I'll be back to study this. Thanks for the tips. :-)

Cindy said...

Those are excellent examples for tag lines and blurbs. Thanks!

Marilyn Brant said...

You showed some great examples, Nancy! Plus, I'm intrigued by your book, If the Shoe Fits :). Love that you have a fairy godfather!!

Nancy J. Parra said...

Thanks, everyone! Hope it helps.

Marilyn, the fairy godfather is real trouble. :)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Oh, I can relate. I've done the whole 25 revisions to get it from one page to 25 words. But it taught me a lot. I'm doing this with each book I write. I read about the importance of a tag line in Give'Em What They Want. I've actually given my pitch in 25 words or less. I have no problems doing it in person, it's harder on paper but I found if I do this for each book I write, it also give me a clearer idea of the concept and surprisingly, shows you where you just might need to do some tweaking.

So it was hard the first time, but once you do, it much easier the second time and the third.

Good post Nancy.