Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Query Letters - Part II - The Perfect Pitch

Query Letters-Part II - the perfect pitch

(This is a reprint of a four part series from 2009)

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 "Mad Men," 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- 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.
DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. 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


Judy Croome said...

Part i & part ii both contain excellent advice. Looking forward to part iii. But I still think I'l *hate* writing query letters!! :(
Judy (South Africa)

Linda Kage said...

Tag lines remind me of this other post I read where the author raved about a self help writers book called SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder.

At the time, I couldn't afford it (forgot about it since then!) so I sneaked a peek at the first pages they show on Amazon and learned that the best tag lines also have contridictions in them...just like your tag line! A fairy god mother and a not so happy ever after...perfect.

I love reading your posts, they clear up and make things I've kind-of-but-not-really heard other places and makes them so much easier to understand!


Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Judy, I think people *hate* writing query letters because it feels as if so much is on the line- so much pressure to catch the interest of the editor/agent. Unfortunately the pressure will never go away. Sort of like a job interview. :)
Thanks Linda, I love SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder. I could do a whole workshop on it. :D