If you are on the hunt for a literary agent, then you are making your pitch, whether face to face at a conference, or in a query letter. Sure, the “live pitch” and the pitch within a query are different in some ways, but they both have the same intentions: to pique the interest of an agent. One thing you don’t want to do is to confuse the agent, or leave her with fundamental questions that will distract her from hearing your story’s plot.
In a live pitch, one of the most disorienting things for me as an agent is when the writer does not tell me the genre of the book right away. While the writer launches into his story and characters, I find myself trying to figure out what, exactly, I’m listening to. Picture a thought bubble over my head filled with the following: “Wait, is this a memoir? No, it must be fiction. But she mentioned a school-aged character. So is it for children? Can’t be, the material is too mature. Wait, the writer just said, ‘the ghost of his memory haunts her.’ Is this a paranormal???”
You see what I’m talking about here? That’s why, when you do a verbal pitch, it’s so helpful if you start out with something like this: “I’d like to tell you about DAY’S END, my completed middle grade fantasy. When 12-year-old Sonia discovers…” Etc.
See what’s going on with this? You’ve already conjured a book title in my mind (makes this feel like a real book, right?). You’ve told me it’s completed, so I know you are serious about submitting it (at conferences, sometimes manuscripts aren’t completed yet…if so, then just omit this). You’ve pointed me in the direction of the genre you are targeting, so that everything you say after that will fit into that slot in my brain. And by giving the character’s age, you’ve shown me that you are on the right track for this age group (something that is critical for the children’s market). Boom! Now I’m ready to listen and my thought bubble will read something like this: “Cool! What’s it about?”
Written queries are a bit different in that you can start off with a little teaser if you want, and I can skim down to see what the genre is, etc. But make no mistake, I will skim down to find this info. So why not forego the dramatic question, or leading off with the descriptive paragraph, and get right to the point?
Say: I’d like to interest you in my completed YA urban fantasy THE CRUSHING POINT (76,000 words).
Then you can add in your teaser line if you want…but it’s not needed, of course. By a teaser line, I mean something like: What would you do if your mentally ill brother held the answer to a deadly disease, but you were the only one who believed him? (Then you can launch into your plot description.) For 17-year-old Kayle Sparks, it’s a race to the death as… (Or something like that.)
Some writers put this genre, etc. info at the very bottom of their query. Yup, that weakens my read of it because I’m forced to go back to the top of the query and reconsider. You may have lost my interest if I’ve already decided, “Oh, this is a unique approach to women’s fiction,” only for me to discover it’s a YA and the main character is only 15. Hm.
Using a simple genre-positioning line as close to the top of your query letter as you can, points me to consider everything else that follows it within the proper context. No reconsidering required.
Notice how I added in the word count in that initial line? Sure, you can do that in a verbal pitch, but you MUST do it in a written query. The agent needs to know that you are within the range of reasonable length for your genre, and where your idea slots within the market. Hey, I’ve got to sell this manuscript, so I have to get this info, right? I also know your book is complete (never query for a work of fiction unless it is done…but it’s reassuring for me to hear that it is), I know the title is intriguing, and I know that this novel is in a genre that demands a certain edge and gritty paranormal elements. The main protagonist is also within the correct YA age range. Okay, cool. Now I’m ready to read the rest of your query.
Setting up your pitch in a simple and direct manner, will help the agent focus on your story idea. Now you can share your plot and hopefully the agent’s thought bubble will look like this: “Wow! I’ve got to read this one!!!”
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