Writing your pitch – pass me the bullets, please

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:

  1. Intro your main characters
  2. Their conflict/dilemma – I’m talking personal conflict, and it has to be something big. Stubbing one’s toe is not a dilemma.
  3. 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.

Artful Shmartful

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.

5 Responses to Writing your pitch – pass me the bullets, please

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    Nice idea. I’ll have to try this method for my next query.

  2. Irene says:

    Thank you very much! I wasn’t impressed by the literary side of that query, either, but the story was so clear I didn’t care about artistry. I’m opening a new Word doc straight away and starting “bulleting” my query! 🙂

  3. HarryMarkov says:

    I get it. Much can be done with simplicity, though the trick is to know what to say… I find this the hardest obstacle so far. [I have not passed the edit rounds, so I may be speaking a tad too soon]. There is so much going on and what you need is a small amount that goes pop in the agent’s face and keeps the attention. A neat trick that can be so hard.

  4. Rik Roots says:

    When I was querying my novel I really struggled with the pitch. Not because I didn’t know how to summarise the who, what and why of the main character; rather it was because the book I had written had an ensemble of main characters, each bringing their own who, what, why and how to the table. Focusing on one MC distorted the pitch to a point where their story and the book’s story seemed disconnected (to me) – like I was lying about the book in the pitch.

    The obvious solution would have been to choose one MC and rewrite the entire book from their POV, jettisoning what was irrelevant to their story … but for me the story had become more than the sum of its characters: I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

    So, question. Is there an easy way to build a convincing pitch for an ‘ensemble novel’ (if such a beast really exists)?

  5. Harry, I hope those bullets help you write your pitch when you’re ready to do so.

    Rik, a simple way to introduce your book is to start out saying it’s an ensemble story that details the lives of X,Y,Z who are brought together by plot A, B, or C. Just because you have a large cast doesn’t mean you can’t still follow the bullets I outlined in my post.

    Now, if they don’t have any golden thread that weaves them together, this could be a tough sell. In those cases I’d use a competing title so the agent or editor gets a clearer picture of your book.

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