Before you begin to write your query letter, don’t forget the most important aspect: you. Writing a pitch or a synopsis is a lot like a fashion show where everyone primped for hours in an effort to look their absolute best, and the best way to look your best is to allow your voice come through. Some of the most memorable query letters I received were due to the author’s distinct voice.
Voice is the term we use when describing an author’s writing style; how they’ve combined syntax (how they strand together a sentence), flow, tone, character development, dialog. It’s your literary fingerprint. It doesn’t matter how short or long your writing is, always inject your voice into it. More than anything, this is what we look for because it’s what makes your story come to life.
Here’s the pitch I wrote for a book I’m noodling with. I took out the “voice” so you’ll see what I mean:
Twist McPherson, young and newly retired from the advertising world, moves to Palm Springs and sets about writing the Great American Novel. After receiving a lot of rejection letters, Twist’s best friend Roz, a New York editor, offers to contact some her agent friends. But Twist wants to make it on her own. Unfortunately, the weakened economy is has forced publishers to look for the big blockbusters.
Twist decides to create her own publishing company and quickly finds herself with five ladies, all in their 70s, who write erotica under noms de plume. Twist enters the schizophrenic world of publishing with the help of Roz and Jack Crawford, a famous author, who puts aside his tenth book and his looming deadline to help Roz and Twist handle the growing public curiosity over these writers whose sudden popularity may force them out of anonymity, along with compromising the health of their husbands, who know nothing about their writing careers.
Technically this is sound; it introduces the characters, the conflict, and teasers. But it’s also pretty vanilla, and that’s because there’s no voice. It’s as if a robot relayed this information. Who cares?
Voice is important because it sets the tone of the story while allowing the writer’s style to come through. It is not necessary to say, “this is a lighthearted look at publishing gone horribly wrong,” (as so many authors do) because your voice says it all. And you really want to avoid these kind of statements because you’re telling me rather than showing me. And you know what? If a synopsis or pitch has a great voice, then we’re willing to overlook a lot. Here is the same pitch with voice:
Twist McPherson, young and newly retired from the advertising world, moves to Palm Springs and sets about writing the Great American Novel. After one too many Harvey Wallbangers and threats to wallpaper her bathroom with the growing pile of rejection letters, Twist’s best friend Roz, a New York editor, offers to contact some her agent friends. But Twist – so named for her metaphorical gifts of rearranging the male anatomy during tough business negotiation – wants to make it on her own. Her timing couldn’t be any worse. The economy has dropped the publishing industry to its knees, and publishers are only looking for the big blockbusters.
Twist is nothing if not pragmatic and takes up Roz’s flippant suggestion of creating her own publishing company. During her weekly Mah Jong game with a group of genteel ladies, all in their 70s, Twist casually mentions her plans. Before she can eat the olive out of her martini, Dirty Little Secrets, LLC is born, and Twist has a stable of five new writers who, under noms de plume, write some of the hottest, refined erotica to hit the shelves. As southern belle, Lucinda Du Pont, drawls over tea spiked with Jack Daniel’s, “Smut sells, dear.”
Twist enters the schizophrenic world of publishing with the help of Roz and Jack Crawford, blockbuster author of the world renowned Lawdog Mystery series, who puts aside his faltering tenth book and ignores his looming deadline in order to lend a helping hand through the maze of growing public curiosity over five hot-blooded retired ladies whose sudden popularity may force them out of anonymity – and their husbands into certain cardiac arrest should they ever learn of their wives dirty little secrets.
Do not take this tool for granted; keep it in your tackle box because it’s the difference between “yes, I want pages,” or “no thanks.”