On Wednesday, I did two different pitches to illustrate the difference between good and bad. Now, keeping in mind that I wrote this pitch, this is still what the editor in me (in red -- of course) thought while reading that pitch:
In my early chapter book for young kids, Liv gets really upset after her brother goes missing after a boring field party. Wait. What? A field party in a chapter book for kids aged 7-9? How old are these characters? He's been kidnapped, but Liv doesn't know by who, kind of redundant because, really, that's not going to be very suspenseful if she does know and she spends the rest of the book looking for him and feeling guilty for hating him for most of their lives. Why does she hate him? Also, Morte Who is Morte? The brother? is a creepy looking kid that Liv thinks is somehow linked to death Wait. What? even though she doesn't have any proof for this. What on earth does that mean? The book is a mystery no this pitch is a mystery and kind of paranormal and a great thriller for kids to read. I can't wait for you to see the full manuscript. not likely
No way would I be requesting this book.
Posted by The Buried Editor on 10/05/2011
Now last week's contest highlighted the weird, crazy stuff that people sometimes do with their query letters. But really, most of the time, the biggest problem with query letters is that they don't do their stories justice. When pitching the story to the editor/agent, the author does not present it in the most flattering light. As an illustration, I will use my own book that's now out, Missing or you can also get a physical book, here. (I don't know why the two aren't linked.)
First I'll tell you (in one sentence) what the general idea is, and then I'll pitch it poorly. Finally, I'll pitch it correctly. You'll see the difference.
Idea: After her brother's disappearance, teenage Liz finally addresses the intense sibling rivalry and hatred she has harbored towards her brother and dedicates her life to finding him.
In my early chapter book for young kids, Liv gets really upset after her brother goes missing after a boring field party. He's been kidnapped, but Liv doesn't know by who, and she spends the rest of the book looking for him and feeling guilty for hating him for most of their lives. Also, Morte is a creepy looking kid that Liv thinks is somehow linked to death even though she doesn't have any proof for this. The book is a mystery and kind of paranormal and a great thriller for kids to read. I can't wait for you to see the full manuscript.
Like their names, Liv and her brother, Morte, have always been polar opposites. Neither can tolerate the others presence, and they spend most of their time fighting. Liv hates her brother and would give anything to just make him go away. All of that changes, though, the day after her brother goes missing after a boring typical, field party. Liv begins to face the sibling rivalry she and her brother have always shared and does everything she can think of to try to find him. A mystery with a paranormal twist to the end, Missing is at its heart Liv's quest to know both herself and the brother she has spent her entire life pushing away.
Which book would you rather read?
Posted by The Buried Editor on 10/03/2011
Query and cover letters are not fun, but they are necessary evils. I don't know of anyone who has ever gotten away without writing a single one. However, in order to avoid sounding inexperienced, naive, or just plain crazy, avoid these common mistakes:
- Address the letter to the correct person. -- Nothing is more annoying than getting a letter addressed to someone else, or addressed to the wrong agency/publishing house.
- Do not make unrealistic claims about your story. -- Your book might become a best-seller someday, but you have no way of knowing that. However, if you already have (in writing) a deal from a charity to purchase 10,000 copies or you self-published and sold 45,000 ebooks or you've already sold the rights in 15 other countries that information is worth including.
- Do not tell who has already read your manuscript. -- If it's other agents and editors who have read and passed on it, you don't want me to know that. For one thing, it would tell me others didn't like it, and for another it would make it clear that I wasn't your first choice. (This may be the case, but why rub the editor's nose in it?) If it's children, educators, friends, families, librarians, etc. this information isn't actually all that useful to me. Only dedicated market research would work, and I doubt you want to go to the time (or expense) of a statistically sound study.
- Do not offer unrealistic comps (like bestsellers) or say there are none for your book. -- Either one makes you sound seriously unread or clueless of your market. Don't get me wrong. Comps can be hard to do, but no book is truly incomparable. If you are having trouble, don't bring up comps at all.
- Do not make demands. -- You can ask things politely, but don't tell me that I have to print this, or that I have to respond by a certain date, or that I have to give you XYZ royalty or to not even bother. I don't know about you, but nothing irks me more than a bossy letter from a stranger.