So my first post in this series focused on the fact that not all agents are created equally, and the importance for authors to know the difference between DESCRIPTION and SPECIFICS when writing a query/synopsis. Is your agent doing a good job of selling you?
Yesterday’s post focused on DESCRIPTION via an example query/synopsis and how this kills any chance of capturing an editor’s attention.
Today’s example provides the counter punch – SPECIFICS.
This example comes from a very talented author we just signed a few weeks ago. I’ve known his agent, Claire Gerus, for years, and we’ve always joked about how fun it would be to work together. Our joking became reality when we signed two of her other clients last year (and who are achingly talented), and Scott Damian’s book, V-V-Voice: A Stutterer’s Odyssey.
Claire is the example of what agents do right. She knows how to make my mouth water AND provide me with SPECIFICS, so I have a clear idea of the story’s main points. The set up of this is a bit different because Claire wrote a proposal, which is common in nonfiction. I love them because it provides all the information I need at some point, and it’s all under one pinky-white cocktail umbrella.
(All authors should write a book proposal, whether you need one or not, because it forces authors to step outside themselves and consider their books as a commodity and not just the thing they love and sweated over. For more info about writing a book proposal, click here.)
V-V-Voice…the word sticks in the back of your throat. Your mouth shudders as your teeth grit together. You push, trying to get the word out. A jarring, jackhammer sound gurgles out of your mouth. Your face contorts and your body shakes as judging eyes stare at you. A shameful feeling washes over you. Your soul is forever crushed.
These are the wounding, humiliating trials that 60 million stutterers worldwide endure each and everyday…and Scott Damian is one of them.
In this gritty, raw memoir, Damian details the stirring battles he endured while searching for a solution to his inability to speak without stuttering.
From his haunting blue-collar childhood in New Orleans to the physical and psychological scars that led Damian down a path of self-destructive behavior that was as crippling as the stuttering itself, “V-V-Voice: A Stutterer’s Odyssey” chronicles the struggles of one stutterer to do the unimaginable; to use his voice as an actor and a writer, and help others find their own.
This grabbed me immediately because I was shown how it feels to have words trapped in my mouth (something that has never been an issue for me, gah). I’m instantly transported into the author’s shoes. My immediate reaction is to open the book proposal and continue reading.
Imagine you’re a child who longs to be heard. You try with all your might to speak, yet you can’t enunciate that first word, that first letter, even that first sound. You are shoved around, thrashed, and punched by many of your peers because they think of you as different. Being called “stutter bird,” “freak,” and “retard” becomes the norm. Instead of having faith in yourself, you have more faith in how others perceive you. A deep sense of fear and insecurity build up inside of you, and you have convinced yourself that you will never talk again. For you, there is no hope. No future. No salvation. All you can depend upon is your silence, for you know you will be a stutterer forever.
The first paragraph is always designed to grab, and I was grabbed by this. For those of us for whom speech isn’t an issue, this paragraph shows us what it’s like to fight daily to communicate without fear. This is the set up para, so I’m expecting the next paragraph will provide further detail.
Fast-forward to thirty years later. You have become a stutter-free adult. You have forged ahead through years of discouragement, disasters, and victories to become a successful actor and writer. Every day you speak the written word with clarity and precision. You now write the words others believe in. You utter phrases that move hearts and arouse emotion.
This is short and sweet, and outlines where the book is headed. The author goes from fearful, humiliated child to successful actor who is stutter-free. I’m still engaged because the first thing I’m asking myself is, “How did he get from there to here? That’s a story I want to read.”
How this stuttering boy became an articulate artist, and his unrelenting journey to find his true voice, is the heart and soul of the memoir, “V-V-Voice: A Stutterer’s Odyssey.”
And here is the log line, the ta-da.
This memoir is aimed to inspire the 60 million people world-wide who stutter, as well as to reassure and inform those who witness their loved ones trying to deal with a similar dysfunction. Most important, “V-V-Voice” will help readers understand what it means to be a stutterer, and bring comfort to millions who may be experiencing their own agonizing challenges and personal fears.
This is the marketplace paragraph, the info that tells me there are a lot of people who are in the same boat as the author.
This book will also speak to the dyslexic teenager out there who agonizes over reading aloud in his 8th grade class, but wants to one day become a playwright; or the kid with a lisp who longs to recite Shakespeare on a grand stage, or the shy office worker who yearns to ask out the one sweet girl who smiles at him every day.
Here are some specifics about what the author goes through during his childhood in order to give me a taste of where this book is headed and how deeply emotional and personal this book is. The true ah-ha moment.
Everyone has at least one trial in life to overcome. Everyone is looking for a glimmer of hope. These are the common threads that connect us all. During this time of recession, depression, foreclosure, natural disasters and war, readers are looking for inspiring stories. “V-V-Voice” not only brings inspiration to those who need it, it also confirms that by giving voice to our dreams, we will achieve greater rewards than we can possibly imagine.
This paragraph brings it home by bridging a common bond that unites everyone – the challenges that all humans face in some form or another. This gives the book universality.
A Word About Tailoring
No, I’m not talking about a ripped hem or missing button. I’m talking about tailoring your query, which is something Claire does, and makes me love her all the more. She knows we publish books that focus on everyday people facing extraordinary circumstances, so she appeals to that very element because she knows I’ll be looking for it. Too often, agents and authors don’t tailor their queries/synopses/proposals to those they query. So, in my case, if I don’t see the ordinary facing the extraordinary, and how they overcome and prosper, then it means I have to ask. Often, they don’t have the answer right away because they hadn’t considered those elements.
I understand agents or authors can’t possibly foresee every contingency, but if an agent or author is going to query someone, doesn’t it make sense to research the publisher and tailor their queries to whet that editor’s appetite? It may seem like a bother, but the idea is to sell the work, right?
I do this with cover letters I send with our media kits. I start with a template and tailor them accordingly. If one media contact has specific elements they’re looking for when deciding to offer an interview, I play those elements up so as to capture their attention. The smart agents, like Claire, do this. The trick is to decide whether your agent (or you!) are doing it as well.
After all, it’s all about the SPECIFICS.
I realize I’ve used nonfiction examples, which can offer leeway in the guise of a book proposal…which, as I said above, everyone should write – even you novelists. But I want to offer an example of a fiction query that hits the high points as well, so you may click here.
Go forth and be brilliant!