I seem, lately, to have been reading and working on a number of synopses and cover letters with my clients and often we overlook the importance of pitching our work to agents and publishers.
When I first submitted about ten years ago I really was a novice. I was submitting too early a draft of the first novel for a start, and I had an empty CV. Just saying I write because it’s my passion, my dream, isn’t enough. We all do. And in many ways I was considering myself qualified enough to be a writer, a published one at that — based on having completed that draft and because I read lots of books.
And as I have said here before, I also spend lots of money but would I apply to be banker based on this criteria alone?
So as I learned and attended conferences, not only did my eyes open to what’s needed to create anything worthy of publication, but I also came to see that while we see writing itself as a creative art, pitching and selling books is a business. Agents and publishers are inundated with submissions and it really does take something to have the WOW factor for it to stand out — and that just means a request for a full MS, it’s only a start.
What agents and publishers want is a WOW book, we all know this. I mean if you can’t write a good copy letter and your synopsis is poor it will count against you but if the agent is able to see through that with all the other things waiting to be read, and gets to the MS and can see it is WOW then the poor pitch might be overlooked. But is this likely to happen I wonder. Agents I’ve talked to — with so much to look at — are more likely to reject based on being unimpressed by the poor pitch. So give yourself the best chance, is all I’m saying. Of course you might be the best pitcher in the world (Like Walter Johnson — baseball?) and your MS has no WOW, and I think that happens a lot too. So it’s not all about the pitch, but you do need to approach this part of the process as a business to stand the best chance of being taken seriously.
So what works as a pitch?
Look I speak only as a debut novelist, but I have had many requests for complete manuscripts in the process of finding my publisher and I do listen to what’s said. When I spoke with agents they said how many manuscripts are rejected because they do not follow the submission guidelines to the letter. Some people wrote emotive pitches, trying to show off their writing ability, using coloured fonts, perfumed paper, even photos of their kids — what next?
Publish this or the puppy gets it? It’s a business proposal, it’s a job application — if you would not do it for that, do not do it for your submission.
So get the basics right —
- Follow submission guidelines TO THE LETTER — if they ask for a one-page synopsis send a one-page synopsis (I advise to prepare a 3,2 and 1 page as they ask for any of these, if they don’t specify or say short — send the one-pager.) I have also been asked to send a blurb-like pitch which means no denouement. But otherwise they want the denouement. See later for synopsis guidelines
- Make the cover letter succinct and to the point like a job application
- Only include a full CV if you have competition wins and a publishing history or writing work experience on there, i.e. work as a freelance editor — in other words you have enough to put on there. They don’t want a CV with all your lists of unrelated jobs! Otherwise put in the cover letter I won the ABC Short Story Competition 2013 and have had one short story published and performed on the radio … etc. If you belong to a writing group tell them. Tell them what makes it clear you mean business. This is my fourth novel, I am currently working on .. but be succinct a young adult novel set in the 1960s — no more than that.
- Include the requested synopsis.
Synopsis — write a third person present tense that covers only the relevant and key plot moments, not a complete breakdown and make sure it shows the full story arc and the motivation of the protagonist so we see how the story unfolds including the denouement. I found this a great book for this:
In the cover letter:
Dear Full name, (get it right, and one agent at any one agency)
I am seeking a publisher/representation for my debut/second novel title , an adult novel, 100,000 words — state genre if applicable — or it would appeal to readers of Stephen King.
Please find attached/enclosed, as requested, the first three chapters of title and a one-page synopsis.
Pitch the theme and premise in one to three sentences in a blurb-like manner that captures what the book explores. Eleanor Boone disappeared from the grassy knoll at the exact moment Kennedy was assassinated and is still missing fifty years on. Narrated by a local hack, part-time dad, Gary Blanchet and retired police psychic, Lydia Collins, they use real evidence from that day and the psychic’s insights but this time not looking for a man in a crowd with a gun — but a little girl.
State how this is relevant or in my case how it linked with the Kennedy anniversary — so any USP but SUCCINCT. NO WAFFLES WITH THAT!
Something about you — very short bio, what you’ve had published, work that’s relevant, competition wins.
SHOW YOU MEAN BUSINESS — especially with an agent they want a career — not one book.
And sign off professionally, I look forward to hearing from you,
Yours sincerely, (NOT with everything crossed –– do not say I am desperate!)
Hopeful Writer (Never use something like this!)
Include links to blogs, twitter, FB in the sign-off only and in small professional print not flashing neon. If they’re interested in you they might look but if your page is full of I just pitched to another freakin’ agent, what does it take for someone to like my work — er don’t include the links! This is where you also have to think about how social networking portrays you — maybe something to talk about another time?
Include you life story, X Factor sob story, photos of children and pets starving if you don’t get accepted! Don’t beg, don’t say ‘Writing is my dream, my passion’ (it’s a given!), ‘ this is all I ever wanted to do’ — show that in your successes, courses attended etc that show you mean business.
Have a great weekend everyone and I hope this was helpful!