The Query Quandary: Pitching Your Novel

The novel pitching advice and experience continues today, with the all-important query.  For more advice, check out Joshua Palmatier’s hub of all things pitching!

Okay, so you’ve got a killer pitch line, and a finished manuscript, and you’re ready for the longer version–the query letter.  Again, you may be writing a query to attract an agent or editor, or you may be crafting back cover copy or a selling blurb to incorporate into your indie marketing campaign.  They have a lot in common.  In both cases, the goal is to convince someone to trust you to provide a good read, and then, to deliver a succinct summary of that book, hopefully one that convinces them to bite.

I addressed this in my post about how invented names can ruin your blurb.     Yes, readers want to latch onto a character, but the name doesn’t tell them anything.  Name the protagonist, and for anyone else, focus on what’s interesting about that character–a phrase that shows more, an occupation, a mood, a descriptor that will start to build an impression in the mind of the reader.

Here’s the query letter I sent to one editor before selling Elisha Barber:

I had the pleasure of meeting you at the SFWA reception a couple of years back.  We talked briefly about a dark fantasy of mine, which you seemed interested in, but my then-agent chose not to pursue submitting to you at that time.  I am the author of two published fantasy novels, The Singer’s Crown and The Eunuch’s Heir, both from Eos books.  I am currently looking for the right house to publish my new work.

In fourteenth century England, a barber-surgeon learns diabolical magic to confront a cruel king–but the cost may be more than his soul.

At the age of nine, Elisha Barber witnessed the burning of a witch outside of London. She transformed into an angel at the last moment, and a stroke of her wing inspired him to become a healer—a barber-surgeon, the lowest rank of the medical profession.

After the ruin of his family, Elisha is condemned to serve as a battle surgeon in an unjust war. The dead witch’s daughter, Brigit, armed with her mother’s prophecies, seeks him out and draws him in to the dangerous world of sorcery. Elisha discovers he has an unnatural affinity for Death. Driven by his own compassionate nature and pursued by those who would control his power, Elisha tries to reconcile his devotion to healing with his command of Death.

Elisha Barber is about 93,000 words long, an action-oriented fantasy closely focused on Elisha’s discovery of magic and his fight against the king.   While it contains a complete story-arc, it also begins a five-book cycle, “The Barber’s Battle”, set in a semi-historical Europe, and escalating a conflict with the necromancers who seek to dominate England, and maybe the world.  All five books are finished in manuscript form.

I would love to submit the complete manuscript of Elisha Barber to you directly.  What’s the best way for me to proceed?

I open with a personal note, in this case, how I met the editor–basically why you chose them.  Then, I go on to establish my own credentials (I am already a published novelist).  If you don’t have something like this to lead with, you’d probably go straight for the synopsis, and maybe end with a bit more about yourself.  In this case, the fact that I’m already a pro is my hook to the editor.

Next, the short synopsis.  You’ll need to be able to write three summaries of your book:  one sentence, one paragraph (sometimes, one page), and 3-5 pages.  So this is a brief two-paragraph unpacking of my elevator pitch.  Then, it’s on to more general information about the book–what is it like?  How long is it?  stand-alone or series?  And most important, is it ready to go?

The more clearly you can convey this information in one page or less, the more successful you’re likely to be in querying agents and editors.  And practice writing that central blurb will serve you well in creating all kinds of marketing materials.

What do you struggle with when you’re drafting a query?  Let me know!

About E. C. Ambrose

I spend as much time in my office as I possibly can--thinking up terrible things to do to people who don't exist.
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