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  • Writer's pictureE L Crocker

How to Write the Perfect Query Letter Pitch

These tips will make your query pitch shine brighter than that lawyer's BMW who lives across from you and you really hate.



Querying your novel is like making polite conversation at a dinner party; no one tells you the rules and by the end of it you want to die. Of all the elements of a query letter, the one I see people have the most trouble with is the pitch itself. So here are my top tips for nailing it, complete with a nice little example that I had way too much fun writing.


Disclaimer: I’m not an agent, but I have edited a few query letters in my time, written my own ultimately successful one and looked over many writer friends' queries. This advice may not be 100% accurate and the ground is constantly shifting under your feet when it comes to the changing advice of queries, but I think it’s pretty solid all round and won’t hurt at the very least; like staying in a Premier Inn.


1) It’s a blurb, not a synopsis


The number one mistake I see in query pitch writing is making it too long. It should be no more than three very short paragraphs of two sentences max or two longer ones of three sentences max. Around 100-150 words is a good guide I think, max 200 if your book is a beast (but even then, size is no excuse for lack of brevity). The aim should be to get across the basic plot in a sparky, brief way that catches the agent’s interest and makes them want to read your chapter, and maybe also signals to the agent that you know how to sell your book. Most will want your synopsis too; so why add more details?


2) It’s not the chance to show how witty you are


The opening chapter is the chance to show off your wit and your incredible use of language, if you want to. Save those asides and those incredible metaphors for then; the pitch is your opportunity to show the agent that you have a cracking idea, and you know how to get it across.


3) Remove all extraneous detail


Similar to 1), all unnecessary details should be removed. You want the core of the book, nothing more. A good (but not the only) template to follow is this one:


- Setting and main character (MC) description

- The problem the MC faces

- A brief summary of the main task the MC undergoes to confront the problem

- The threat that will face the MC if they don’t find a solution to the problem


See my example below for this in action…



4) EXAMPLE


Here’s an example of someone who hasn’t followed the instructions above, and an example of someone who has absolutely nailed it. Did I write these? Who can say.


NOT GREAT EXAMPLE

Library assistant Max lives a happy life in Berlin of reading, writing and occasionally clubbing (with dubious results on all three). This all changes when he decides to finally query the novel he has been working on for years, an epic fantasy of dragons and magic. Unfortunately, when he goes to the internet for help, he finds a mass of conflicting advice and complicated query rules that get him nowhere. Despairing, one night he uses an old summoning book to summon a demon from the depths of the library. The demon, Malificex, is one of the captains of hell, and makes him a deal: he will craft him the perfect query if he sells his soul for all eternity. Desperate, Max agrees. However, he immediately regrets it; and begins to look for ways to get out of the deal before his favourite agent, Dale Maker, closes for queries for the summer.


To get help, Max goes to his library writing group. This consists of Richard Bovax, a writer whose manuscript was rejected by publishers ten years ago and who has never got over it (and isn’t shy of telling people); Geoffrey Palmer, a blogger who hates the entire industry and posts hit pieces explaining why it’s terrible (while ignoring the issues with his own writing); and Lisa Loveless, who has been trying to get her PhD finished for ten years while not noticing that poor Max has a huge crush on her.


With time ticking away, Max must use the help of this newly assembled team of experts to outwit Malificex and save his query. But with only one week left, it soon becomes clear that they might not be able to save him from being sent to hell for eternity or, even worse, never receiving the spotlight his novel deserves.


GOOD EXAMPLE

Library assistant Max lives a happy life in Berlin, until the day he finally summons the courage to query his masterwork novel. Faced with a mass of conflicting advice on the internet, he summons a demon. This comes with a price however – his eternal soul.


Regretting his deal, and with time running out before his dream agent closes for queries, Max seeks help from his library writing group, including a failed writer who sees this as his path to redemption, a blogger with his own axes to grind, and the eternal PhD student Max has a secret crush on.


But the clock is ticking, and if this motley crew of the ignored can’t best the spawn of Satan, then Max will face eternal damnation and, even worse, eternal unappreciation.


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