Most writers hate queries and synopses. And, the documents can certainly be daunting! It boggles the mind to think of encapsulating your book in a brief synopsis, much less into a few sentences. But how to pitch a book idea is much the same as writing a killer query.
The majority of your work occurs in gathering the background information.
But the thing is, just like in a query, editors and literary agents (and ultimately readers) just want to know if this book is for them.
In other words, one wants to know why you think she might be the right agent, or why he’s the right editor at the right house for your book. They want to know what the book is about. And finally, they want to know who you are and if you can pull off said book to begin with.
Yes, daunting indeed.
I spend a lot of time with my authors in making these documents perfect. And by doing so, we then boil it all down to the one pitch. And though it may seem like a lot of work in the background, that pays off like a royal flush.
So let’s focus upon the 4 points of how to pitch a book idea:
1). Why are you querying this agent (or sometimes, editor)?
Just that she’s at the same conference, meeting with writers, isn’t the answer! If you’re not a fit for her or her agency, you’re wasting everybody’s time.
Ditto for sending out a thousand queries to, well, just about everybody.
Does he represent similar authors? Has she sold books in this genre (be prepared to name them)? Did you meet him at a conference (if so, by all means, remind him of when and where and what was said, especially if work was requested)? Did someone in the business refer you to her?
But even if you’re referred, you’ll need to research each agent, and what he or she represents/sells.
An agent wants to know that you’ve done your homework, know what she represents, and aren’t just querying blind. In this day and age of zillions of submissions and very few slots, everyone’s time is of the essence.
2). A tag line comparing your book to 2 similar ones:
TITLE is like Gone Girl meets The Girl on the Train.
Okay, now that’s somewhat sensationalized! You don’t want to oversell your book, if it doesn’t hold up to these titles.
The thing is, you want to truly compare yours, especially if the titles are ones this agent represented.
3). Who you are and why you are qualified to write this book.
Here, include only that which pertains to you writing this book. They do not want to know that you’re married with two children and live on the coast of Maine with your Golden Retriever—unless, the coast of Maine is a pertinent point in the storyline. Or that the Golden Retriever is the actual narrator. Even then, include only that part.
Include any publications you might have had. That is a big plus. Although debut novels are still the rage.
Writers are often stymied by this, especially if this is a first novel, nothing else they’ve written has been published, etc. But don’t be. If you’re writing a detective novel and you’re a detective, that lends credence to your ability to know and write about your subject. If your novel revolves around an environmental mystery, and you’ve worked for the EPA or have been a Sierra Club activist, the same holds true.
Maybe you’ve belonged to a writer’s workshop, etc., add that in—it shows that you’ve been honing your craft. And if you’ve worked with a well-known editor, agents and publishers know you’re ahead of the game. Perhaps nothing you’ve written has been published but you’ve won contest awards–include that. But do not say that all your friends and family have loved the book—that’s amateurish.
And, the point is, we want you to look like a professional, even if this is your first writing endeavor.
Note: You’ll get about 20 seconds in an agent/editor pitch to get this across.
4). The actual “pitch” of the book:
- Take your long synopsis, and cut it in half.
- Cut this down to two paragraphs.
- Then, to one paragraph.
- Pare that down to a couple of sentences.
- Boil all of that down into one, thesis sentence.
- Finally, write another sentence or two around that. This is your “pitch.”
It seems backward, but the exercise really works. As a book editor, I work with my writers to master these techniques, which gets the attention of literary agents and publishers.
And they’ll help you to hone down the essence, and teach you exactly how to successfully pitch a book idea.
Now, go to it!