On pitching your novel

I’ve spent last night and part of this morning reading through some queries and submissions.

It’s…edifying…to say the least. Some of the same mistakes come up again and again, and I thought it might be a good idea to address the biggies here.

1. This should really go without saying, but please spell-check your query. Misspelling the name of your own novel in your pitch is Not Good.

2. Make sure you send the requested file format. We request RTF for a reason, and sending something we have to convert into RTF before reading means you’ve automatically been bumped to the bottom of the pile.

3. Keep it short and sweet. Let your writing speak for itself, outside of a brief introduction.

Let’s take that last one and expand a bit, shall we? Candlemark & Gleam requests only a brief intro letter and synopsis, plus your first 50 pages, the latter in RTF format. The key here, kids, is brief. You don’t need to send a 20pp outline of your novel; you don’t need to spend 5pp introducing yourself to us.

In fact, your query should be short, punchy, and simple. If you can’t explain your novel in 90 seconds or less, you might want to think harder about why. Is it too complicated? Have you thrown every plot point and character in existence at the wall to see what sticks? If you can’t make sense of your own plot and distill it down, an editor certainly won’t hop on board.

Check out this great explanation of how to write a 90-second pitch – which ends up being about half a page – a lovely query length.

It’s wonderful that you have ideas about cover design, how to market the book, how you’ll support it in the marketplace – but these are part of a book proposal, not a query, and are probably better reserved for after an agent/editor/publishers requests your full. When we’re first introduced to you and your work, cold, all we really care about is the quality of that work. You know, whether you have a good, engaging plot, dynamic characters, and a writing style that conveys both to the fullest.

The other stuff – marketing, connections, all that – is just gravy. We’ll worry about that later. The story and writing are what counts, and are what will sell or not sell your book. Express the gist of the story, give us a good hook into wanting to open that sample submission, and then get out of your writing’s way.


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