There is a query letter on the Query Shark blog that encompasses everything that authors should be doing when writing their pitch. Go on over and take a peek. No really, go on…I’ll wait.
Ok, so you read it, right? The thing that stands out at me is that I didn’t find it an artful piece – which is a good thing, actually – because it goes to show you that finesse doesn’t always mean squat. But what the query does have is CLARITY. How to do this? Simple, actually.
No, no, not the explody kind, the literary kind. Queries are all over the place in terms of quality, but what they MUST have is this:
- Intro your main characters
- Their conflict/dilemma – I’m talking personal conflict, and it has to be something big. Stubbing one’s toe is not a dilemma.
- The choices facing the main character – what will happen based on the decisions they make?
Rather than jumping in with both feet, which invariably results in a huge mess, make bullets.
Breaking down the impossible to the manageable
The main problem I see with query letters is that authors fail to define the stories’ key elements because they can’t separate the main plot from the plot twists. In a word, they get caught amongst the white noise of their own stories.
Bullets force you to break everything down to its lowest common denominator, and this makes the puzzle pieces fall into place more clearly. And this is what I like about this particular query on Query Shark.
So open up a fresh Word doc and create your own bullet list:
- Who are your main characters?
- What are they doing that gets them into this particular position?
- What happens because of where they are, or what they’re doing?
- What do they stand to lose?
- What other problems is the main character having that may influence their decision-making process? [This would be your plot twist or sub-plot] Note: THIS HAS TO BE TIED INTO THE MAIN PLOT ON SOME LEVEL
- What are the choices facing your character? If she does this, what happens? If she does that, what happens?
- How does it all end? NOTE: You won’t give the ending away, but instead present teasers to that solution.
Once you have all those bullets down – which forces you to stay on track – then you put them all together in a cohesive pitch.
I’ve seen plenty query letters that were beautifully written but said squat all – which results in a rejection because I don’t have enough information to formulate an opinion.
I’ve seen “eh” queries that were much less artfully written but gave me the exact information I needed to determine whether their story flipped up my Vickie Secrets. I don’t care about the lyrical quality of a pitch. I need da facts, baby. And this is why I think this particular query on Query Shark is so effective.
Go back and look at it and see if you can’t see exactly how an author could break that pitch down into bullets. If you know how to do it, you can create a pitch that’s worth reading.