Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Perfect Pitch

The best novel in the world isn’t going to capture the attention of an agent or editor if you don’t know how to pitch it. And the “pitch” is just exactly that. When constructing your queries, responding to calls for submissions, or looking for representation for your work, it’s easy for the uninitiated to make some fatal mistakes. Keep in mind that most agents and editors are powering through at least 200 queries a week, usually many more. More importantly, they have one and only one burning question in their minds as they do: Can I sell it? So for better or worse, your queries need to somehow address that single question. You are not selling yourself, your background, the astonishing intricacies of your plot or the compelling details of the character development. You are not pleading, coaxing or begging to have your genius recognized. You job is to intrigue them enough to make them want to see more. That is the essence of a perfect pitch. Step One: The Hook With so many queries running through the average agent’s or editor’s mailbox on any given day, if you don’t capture their attention in the first line or so, chances are they won’t read much past it. Thus, your hook can pose a compelling question relevant to your novel’s premise; you can compare your work to other bestsellers in the genre, or you can insist that your novel goes where no novel has every gone before. Your choice, but don’t be cute, don’t try to be funny and don’t try to otherwise divert their attention from the business at hand. Regardless of how you frame it though, hook them you must. Do NOT begin by telling them how long it took you to write it, who recommended that you write them, or how frustrating it is to find good help these days. Neither should you introduce yourself by telling them their business, i.e, “Paranormal fiction is flying off the shelves.” Everybody knows that. Step Two: The Jist Two short paragraphs at most, and hard as hell to write. More specifically, the body of your letter should address the three principle elements of your story—the protagonist, the setting and the plot. Period. Paragraph number two is all about the plot development. “After joining forces, X and Y struggle against the forces of evil embodied by A,B and C in their quest for the Grail. ” You do not need to let them know the detail of how the plot is resolved, only that is it resolved. Which should then be followed by a memorable sort of summary: “Their lives will be forever changed with the revelation that not every Prophecy is fated to come true.” That’s it, that’s all. No mas. That your characters take a side trip to Atlanta, or attend their 20th high school reunion may be all very well and good, but it doesn’t mean a thing who somebody who hasn’t read your book. So skip it. Step Three: Your Bio Here’s where too many authors make the mistake of trying to oversell themselves, rather than relying on their pitch to do the work for them. Many will include all their publication credits, how they’ve been writing for 19 years while the kids were asleep, and even their “day jobs”. If you blog as financial editor but your novel has nothing to do with finance, skip it. The key to imparting information about yourself is to only impart the information that is relevant to your novel. You can get friendly once they accept your manuscript. Close your query with the offer to send sample chapters or a complete manuscript. Let them know how long the manuscript is, and thank them for their time. Sign it, include your contact information and voila! Perfect pitch. Need help? See our sponsor page is offering a new AGENT LINK service. Special pricing for a limited time only!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Editorial Bloopers Hall of Fame: Part One by Teresa Kennedy

Okay writers, let’s face it. We all have our little quirks, idiosyncrasies and those weird, entirely individual conventions in our style of personal expression that have a way of working themselves into our prose.
Sometimes, those can manifest on the page as what is politely called “authorial intrusion”. Other times, they are celebrated as the true essence of the author’s emergent “voice”. Most times, however, they provide unfortunate evidence that the overworked and underappreciated writer maybe should have gotten up from the computer and gone outside for more fresh air and sunshine until they stopped writing long enough to figure out what they were actually trying to say.
Remember folks, it’s not the number of words you write, but the quality and precision of those words that count. So to honor some of the most prevalent, and in some cases, downright spectacular crimes ever committed in the name of literature, we present the following examples, each in its own weird way, worthy of a mention in our Editorial Bloopers Hall of Fame:
The Directionally Challenged: “She looked up at the ceiling, as she sat down in her chair.” Here’s the thing: Ceilings are always UP and readers tend to know this. So are stars, the sky and indeed the firmament. Similarly, it is very difficult for a character to sit anywhere but down. Any and all chairs, sofas, settees tend to be constructed for that convenience. The only possible exception is when a character sits up from a prone position, at which time it is almost never necessary to specify what they are sitting up on. Surprisingly, readers are also never interested when characters “walk across the floor”. If they are indoors, there’s always a floor and everybody knows that.
Nouns are Not Verbs: Sure, you may insist upon poetic license, you might call it stylistically experimental, but the fact is, if your readers share a common language, we’re all fairly familiar with the basics of how it’s supposed to work. In much the same way that you can flavor tofu to taste like steak, but everybody still knows it’s tofu, dressing a noun up in verb’s clothing just doesn’t cut it. Therefore, sentences such as “Myrna fisted her hand.” Or “Gregory lipped a smile,” are enough to give the average reader serious pause. And guess what? When a reader pauses, they’ve stopped reading.
Body Parts: It is an unwritten rule of editorial thumb that unless you’ve authored some sort of zombie apocalypse, body parts should not react independently of the characters they’re attached to. “Her head swiveled at Alfonse’s entrance, as her chest heaved” might mean anything from torrid attraction to something out of The Exorcist, but unless we know the parts are indeed attached to the character in question, we have no way of discerning just what Milady’s reaction to Alfonse might consist of. Too often, a writer will zone in on the part in question thinking to clue us in, (her head is moving so she must be thinking) rather than specifying what’s actually going on, saying things such as, ”Her hand made a little gesture,” instead of actually coming out and saying if she was doing the royal wave or flipping somebody off. It never, ever works.
Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nods. Truly the bane of a line editor’s existence, if we had the proverbial nickel for every time we blue-lined one of these, we probably wouldn’t be blogging. “He nodded his head,” “She blinked her eyes rapidly. “ “Ferdinand couldn’t resist another wink of his eye.” If you don’t find this device redundant, just try nodding something besides your head, or winking or blinking some bit of anatomy that isn’t your eye. See what we mean? Wink, wink.

Tune in again for Part Two of The Bloopers Hall of Fame!