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PITCHING TO AN AGENT 2020 PART 5

April 1, 2020

THE SYNOPSIS

NOTE: Even though the 2020 Las Vegas Writer’s Conference has been changed to a virtual on-line event, due to “you know what,” query or pitch letters are still relevant to the writer.
I’ve decided to move on, having said enough about pitch letters for now. If any of you want more on them, just ask, and I’ll throw in some more at a later date.
DETAILED BREAKDOWN
The synopsis is a breakdown of your story. It’s another form of an outline, but in complete sentences, no bullets. The purpose of the synopsis is to tell your complete story to the agent or publisher. Specifically, you need to outline the main character, the main conflict, and the resolution. Yes, you must tell the ending. The synopsis tells the complete story, from beginning to end, in abbreviated form. The key is the length. For a pitch letter at a conference, and for some queries to agents, it should be one page. For some agent queries, it might be two to three pages. From there, where a full manuscript is requested, it could be three to ten pages, depending on the individual requirements of the agency. The key is to follow their instructions explicitly. As a general rule, stick to one page unless told otherwise. One good thing about sticking to these rigid requirements is that it keeps your writing tight.
CAN REVEAL FLAWS IN FLOW AND PLOT
A synopsis can be extremely hard to write properly. However, the synopsis can also be a very good way to reveal how well your story has been put together. It’s a good way to spot any red flags in flow and plot. When you break down your story into a few paragraphs, just to get the key plot elements, you’re going to see right away if it all holds together. If, at the end of your synopsis, you notice that the story doesn’t hold water, you may need to go back and do some rewriting!
One way to develop your synopsis is to start by describing each scene or each chapter (if you have a lot) in one bullet sentence. Compile all of these bullets and look them over for the key patterns. If something looks extraneous, maybe it shouldn’t be there. Once you have that down, turn these bullets into sentences and then organized paragraphs so that they flow together.
As for me, I have the whole story in my head. In my creative process, I only know where I want to start and where I want to end, the middle is a total surprise. You’ve heard that all before, right? Well, once I get going and write it all down, it becomes locked in my head. As I edit it over and over again, the plot and all the details become locked in so when I sit down to write my synopsis, I already have the big picture going for me. I don’t have to bullet out each chapter. However, I don’t expect all of you out there to write or create the same way I do, so I’m throwing that bullet method out for you.
NAME ONLY THE MAIN CHARACTER AND ANTAGONIST
The key elements are that you introduce the main character and maybe their adversary by name only. Everyone else remains unnamed. They’re just anonymous characters as far as the synopsis is concerned. The first time you name these one or two characters, you put them in italics. From then on, they’re in regular font. Don’t get bogged down in unnecessary details such as naming a whole bunch of characters, names or places in the story. Don’t list timelines either, especially on a one-page synopsis! Describe the plot, describe what happens, describe what, where, when, why and how the character gets from point A to point B in the story and what happens at the end. Nothing more, nothing less.
If you’re writing a two, three or more page synopsis, a few sentences per chapter might be appropriate unless you have eighty chapters. Again, if you do this, it should read almost like a short story. It should make sense on its own. If it doesn’t, you need to work on the plot of your book some more before you try pitching it.
SECOND SET OF EYES
The final element to all of this, before you ever even think of turning it in to an agent or publisher: Get someone or several other people to read it first! There’s nothing like second sets of eyes to see what you can’t!
SUMMARY
For a pitch letter at a conference, the synopsis should be one page, on the back of the pitch letter. For a synopsis to mail, follow the instructions from their web site.
First do bullets, then turn them into complete sentences.
Tell the entire story including the ending.
Only name the main character and the antagonist.
No example this time because it’ll give away the plot for any future readers.
You’ll just have to visualize.
Happy writing!

PITCHING TO AN AGENT 2020 PART 4

March 25, 2020

THE PITCH LETTER (QUERY LETTER)
(One That Worked)

NOTE: Even though the 2020 Las Vegas Writer’s Conference has been delayed indefinitely, due to “you know what,” query or pitch letters are still relevant to the writer.

EXAMPLE
Now I’m going to show you a pitch letter that worked. Below is the letter that I handed to the publisher that gave me the contract for my upcoming novel, Meleena’s Adventures – Treasure Of The Umbrunna. Keep in mind that I handed it to her at the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference and pitched to her in person. After I sold her on the idea, she had me send it along with the first 50 pages plus a synopsis, which was on the back of this letter.

I’ve included notes of explanation, where appropriate. I also left off the header, date, and a photo, which is something (the photo) you shouldn’t put on a letter you’re mailing out! For a conference, it’s okay, but a blind letter, the photo isn’t such a great idea. Also, I modified parts of it so as not to give away the actual plot in case anyone wants to read the book.

Re: Meleena’s Adventures – Treasure Of The Umbrunna

Fantasy – 79,500 words

Pen name: Ray Brooks (I have since dumped this idea and went with my real name – I’ve posted several articles since about my feelings on pen names).

All she wanted was to get rich, but in the end, will she sacrifice all to help another? If she isn’t careful, people may start to think she’s a decent person. (This is the pitch (or slug) line, the first thing I said to her (the publisher) after introducing myself.)

Meleena goes through life one picked pocket at a time. With a wild heart, she spends each night with a different man, and often wakes up in a strange place. When she goes after a valuable pearl hidden in a lost city called Slab, she figures this is the way to the easy life. An old magick user named Grel may hold the key to finding this pearl, and he insists she not go alone if she hopes to survive. Despite second thoughts and an aversion to working with others, she gathers a team and heads for the lost city. However, she’s not the only one after the pearl, and Meleena enters into a race to get there first. (This is the body of the text. It should be one paragraph, but I broke a rule and made it two short ones (see the second one below). It worked. They were condensed from the original. The whole point was that the entire letter had to fit on one page, letterhead, spacing, signature, credits, all of it. Keep it brief!)

As she fights her way to the lost city, Meleena discovers she’s out of her element in the wilds. Her companions help her survive, and she learns to trust others. After a hazardous journey, she reaches the pearl first, but is betrayed by one of her friends. After escaping, she learns that Grel has been manipulating her all along, and the pearl is not what it seems. Besides the monetary value, it’s the only way to provide a cure for the queen of her kingdom, Grel’s former lover. She’s now faced with making a huge profit or helping the queen. This isn’t the easy life she envisioned. (Notice it’s present-tense. That has nothing to do with how the story is actually written – in my case, third person past-tense. All query letters are written in present-tense.)

I’m a member of the Henderson Writer’s Group in Henderson, Nevada. My short story, The House, appeared in the anthology Between the Pages, 2003. The Walk Home was published in the story collection Writer’s Bloc 2006, The Basement in Writer’s Bloc 2, 2008, and Fun In The Outland in First Voyage, 2008. (Remember, relevant writing credits, which should include a writer’s group, if you’re in one. Though none of these stories are fantasy, the chances of the publisher checking, or finding those books were pretty slim, so I took the chance. Turns out, many of those books were for sale at the conference. Also, the titles could mean anything, and at least they show I’m a prolific and published writer. Just make sure if you do this, you don’t put something down that’s obviously not relevant. Note that I didn’t include the genre of each story. Since I’m now published, my bio and marketing sheets list the genres of each story).

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Fred B. Rayworth

SUMMARY
There you go. An example, a visual aid, without giving away too much of the actual story, but hopefully, enticing you to read it. This example also gives you an idea of one way to successfully pitch to an agent. Next time, I’ll either go over some variations of the pitch letter, or move on to the synopsis, depending if I can find some good pitch letter examples I want to present without confusing you.

Happy writing!

PITCHING TO AN AGENT 2020 – PART 3

March 17, 2020

THE PITCH LETTER (QUERY LETTER)
(What Not To Do!)

NOTE: Even though the 2020 Las Vegas Writer’s Conference has been delayed indefinitely, due to “you know what,” query or pitch letters are still relevant to the writer.
In this part we’ll get down to some technical thingies. We’re going to go over what not to do. There’s nothing better than examples, visual aids, so to speak.
NEGATIVITY
I mentioned never to use negativity or put yourself down. Here are a few examples. Some are overt, while a few may be a bit more subtle.
I know you get lots of submissions, but before you throw mine in the slush pile, I’d appreciate if you’d give me a chance.
Ding ding ding! Red flag! You’re starting negative right out of the gate. Don’t even bring the subject up. In the first place, you should be starting with your slug line. Second, you’re giving the agent the perfect excuse to do just what you are hoping they won’t do.
I’ve been submitting to lots of agents, but was hoping you’d be the right one for my work.
Do I have to explain this one?
I’m a struggling writer and found your agency on line. I would like to present my character…
A little more subtle, but saying you are a struggling writer is not only a cliché, it’s a given and also a negative. No need to voice it. Scratch the first sentence.
Thank you for considering my work. I may not be the best writer in the world, but I know I’ve come up with a winner here.
You had him or her at the first sentence and blew it with the rest. Hack off that second sentence.
RELEVANCE
Now for a little biography sample.
I’m an accomplished writer with high grades in English grammar in high school and college. I excelled at all of my term papers and almost had an article published in the alumni newsletter but due to budget constraints, the issue was never printed. I had a short story called The Flag printed in Mystery Journal for Fiberglas Press, 1989.
She’s a mystery writer. The only relevant credit is the last one. The rest of it is pure fluff and irrelevant. Trash it. Inflating a bio with irrelevant material is no way to win friends with an agent. If you only have one credit, so be it. In the good old days, it was okay to throw in the kitchen sink. Nowadays, agents don’t have time to slog through all this crap looking for gems. You’re better off to keep it tight and right. Besides, almosts don’t count.
CONCEIT
I’m sure you get lots of really “great” stories at your agency, but now get ready for a real treat. XXX will blow you away.
Oh, please! Sarcasm, conceit, grammar problems, the list goes on.
SUMMARY
That’s it for now. The key is to use common sense and keep it straight. Next time, an example of a query letter that worked. From there I’ll discuss other forms of query letters and why they may or may not work.

PITCHING TO AN AGENT 2020 PART 2

March 11, 2020

THE PITCH LETTER (QUERY LETTER)

I need to tell you up front that this discussion pertains to pitching fiction and not non-fiction. When it comes to queries, they’re two different animals. I’ve never pitched non-fiction and don’t have a clue how to do it, so if that’s what you’re after, sorry! They’re called proposals, by the way.
Now that you’ve heard the inevitable (you’re going to have to do one unless you self-publish), how are you going to go about it? The easy answer is to tell you to go to the bookstore or the wyberry (library, sorry, I like to play with words) and stock up with literally (if that isn’t a metaphor) hundreds of books on writing query letters. Or, I could condense it all down for you and let you know what’s worked for me and what hasn’t. Keep in mind that you can come up with a generic letter, but trust me, you’ll have to modify it for each agent. Not only it is good to personalize each one, but many agents have their own ideas of what a query letter should contain. A generic query letter smacks of impersonalization. That, my friends, is a big red flag with a trash can bulls-eye right in the middle of it!
THE SLUG LINE
The slug line is probably the key element to the pitch letter. This is the bullet phrase, something you can cite off the top of your head that sums up the entire book in one killer line. If you were to sit down with an agent, face-to-face, after introductions, and he or she asks you about your book, this is the first words out of your mouth.
I cannot emphasize how important this slug or pitch line is. It should be done without hesitation, without forethought, and with confidence. It should have impact, grab attention, and sum up the book.
A BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE BOOK
Now that you have your slug line out, while it sums up the gist of the novel in a short phrase, the next thing to do is go into a brief summary of the story. This should be a very short paragraph summing up what the story is about but with just a bit more detail than the slug line. The slug line attracts their attention, whereas the summary gives them a more detailed, but brief picture of what the novel is about.
A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF
After you’ve given a summary of the book, it’s time for a bit about yourself (brief bio) (what makes you qualified to write the story). Of course, you don’t write just those things exactly. Remember, this is a letter to a person, not a machine. The key is that the letter should be brief, to the point and only contain relevant information. On top of that, it must be grammatically correct, contain no typos and something you might not always hear from others, it cannot contain any negatives or sarcasm.
NO NEGATIVITY
Whatever you do, do not put yourself or others down! Do not use sarcasm! I must step back and say that if the sarcasm is part of the plot or storyline, that’s something else. If it’s about you or other authors, do not use it!
DON’T GET CUTESEY-POO
Another thing never to do, well, something that is extremely risky and 99% of the time doesn’t work, is to write the query letter in character. Yes, I’m talking about your main character being a hard-bitten detective with a few screws loose upstairs. He or she writes the letter. It’s written on an old typewriter with a cigarette burn in one corner and coffee stains in another. The letter is folded wrong and you sign it with your character’s sloppy signature, typing your real name and address on the envelope. Cutesy-poo to-the-max, but most agents and publishers have been there and done that and can’t hit the trash can with it fast enough. Some may even respond with a nasty letter. A romance writer may send it on frilly stationary soaked in perfume. What if the agent is allergic to perfume?
Play it straight. No gags, no gimmicks to get yourself noticed. I’ve had more agents tell me they get extremely annoyed by these tactics and put these authors on their ***t lists. Keep that in mind.
PERFECT GRAMMAR – NO TYPOS
It’s extremely important the letter have no typos or grammatical errors. When an agent gets hold of it, if they see you can’t even write out a single page without an error, what will a novel or short story look like?
Next time, we break things down even further.
Happy writing!

PITCHING TO AN AGENT 2020 PART 1

March 4, 2020

THE PITCH LETTER (QUERY LETTER)

I originally published this article in 2012. I’d been attending the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference for seven years at that time. This was the second year of my web site. In fact, it was because of the writers conference that I started the web site. Not much has changed, but since the 2020 conference is around the corner, it’s time to dust off the old articles, and bring them out again. This is the second one in this 2020 series.
THE PITCH LETTER
Probably one of the hardest things an author has to write is the pitch letter. Yeah, I’ve probably said the hardest thing to write is the synopsis, or maybe the book blurb, but when you get right down to it, none of that matters if you can’t sell the book to an agent or publisher in the first place.
I’m reminded of the teen who doesn’t want to finish high school and comes up with the excuse, “Well Axl Rose of Guns N Roses never graduated, and look at him. He’s a big rock star millionaire.” Well, there’s ambition and dumb luck. He could just as easily have failed and never would’ve had anything to back himself up with. Mr. William Bruce Rose Jr. (his real name) might be the guy cleaning your pool while you’re making the big bucks because you went on to get a degree (nothing against pool cleaners). Why I bring this up is that some authors think their story is so hot they won’t need to sell it. Agents will be knocking their door down to buy it from them. A pitch letter, or trying to pitch their story isn’t on their radar. They can skip the hard work because their story is so hot, luck (agents and publishers) will seek them out.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen often in the real world. The funny thing is that I actually did see it happen once at the very first writer’s conference I attended in 2005. There was this teenage kid pitching a story he hadn’t even completed. He didn’t have a query letter or even any writing samples, as I recall. Yet when he pitched his idea to one of the YA (young adult genre) agents, she signed him on the spot! To this day, I don’t have any idea if anything ever came of that kid or his books (if he completed one), but it was one of those magic Axl Rose type moments, where lightning strikes. I was there to witness it.
Do you think it’ll happen to you? Fat chance! You, my friend, are going to have to work for it like the rest of us, if the numbers bear out. So, suck it up and start listening (or reading, if you want to get technical).
The pitch letter, or as it’s more widely known, the query letter, is your way of getting the attention of an agent or publisher. It’s a way of tapping them on the shoulder and saying “Hey, I’ve got something to show you.”
Agents and publishers get literally hundreds if not thousands of these letters per day/week/month. They’re always looking for the next best thing, something with which they can sell and make a ton of money. At the same time, they have to slog through all this crap. To get their attention, you need to be brief, to the point, no bull. Or as Jack Webb used to say in Dragnet, “Just the facts, Ma’am.”
BE CONCISE
In past posts, I’ve alluded to staying on track, keeping your story to the point and being concise. It’s critical you do that in a query letter. You’ve got just a few quick lines to blow their socks off, to pique their interest, to leave them wanting for more. By the time that agent or publisher reaches the end of that letter, they should know the story is a good fit for their agency, they should see that you have the chops to pull it off, and they should be intrigued by the premise, or pitch line. If you can pull off all three of those things, I can almost guarantee they’ll be asking for more.
Next time, I’ll discuss the structure of the pitch/query letter and some of the various forms.
Happy writing!

CONFERENCE TIME AGAIN 2020

February 26, 2020

This is the start of my annual conference article series. I’ll say right up from that last year I skipped this whole series. I was NOT a happy camper for many reasons I won’t go into. Things changed, not to my liking, and I’ll leave it at that, many things on a personal level. Business has returned to a better place this year, and I feel more comfortable.
For outsiders, the 2019 Las Vegas Writers Conference was a resounding success. We’ve developed a reputation as one of the best writers conferences in the nation, as mentioned in several top notch writers publications. It’s well deserved. As an attendee to every one since 2005, I can attest to that. I’ve seen this conference grow, change, and go through many different versions over the years. We have a reputation and a high standard.
This time I won’t go into too many details except to outline some of the reasons why this conference has gained its reputation. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be revisiting some of the articles from the past that are relevant to the conference. They’re more detailed and the info in them hasn’t changed all that much. Some things you may hear repeated and that’s because these things are an integral part of our success.
WHY THIS CONFERENCE?
          SIZE
One reason the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference is such a success is because of the size.
It’s an intimate setting. We’re limited in size to a smaller group which means everyone gets to interact with everyone.
          PRICE
There’s only one price. Once you pay the conference fee, that’s it. The only exception, is if you want to invite additional dinner guests. Then you have to pay extra for them. Otherwise, if you want to see any agent, publisher, or author, it’s included in the price of admission.
          INTIMATE SETTING
Everyone is accessible.
Throughout the three days, you have access to everyone. Not only do you have ample opportunities to set up appointments with agents and publishers, you interact with them in classes, during breaks, at meals, in the hallways. Everyone is available. It’s not like so and so is escorted in with a “possee” to the signing booth, does their scribbles on a book or two, does a couple of pitches and then leaves. They’re there for the duration.
          CLASSES
There are a variety of classes, the meat of the conference, that cover every aspect of the publishing and writing world. From writing to editing to marketing, there are almost always classes to cover everything you can think of and learn from. These classes are taught by the very people you come to pitch your work to.
          SUCCESSES
Every year, writers get successful pitches and queries to agents and publishers. While the return may be low, once in a while someone strikes gold. The chances of obtaining an agent are much higher with a face-to-face meeting than a random letter in the mailbox. Each year, someone obtains a big-time agent or publisher from our conference.
SUMMARY
The Las Vegas Writers Conference is one of the best in the nation for many reasons. As a writer, you should attend at least one if you’re serious about getting published, whether traditionally or self-published. Yeah, even self-published authors can get a lot of value out of this conference. There’s plenty to learn for self-pubbed authors as well, as you’re not excluded from the mix.
Happy writing!

RESEARCH REVISITED

February 19, 2020

In my now, long line of “revisited” articles, I once again harken back to 2011 and one of the originals. The chances are, if someone brings it up on a forum, I’ve already got an article to back it up. The other day, someone did just that on one of my Facebook forums and asked about research. Though I’ve covered this subject not only in 2011, but 2012, 2014 and 2019, in various forms, I thought it would be fun to go back to the original and give it a fresh update.
After posting over five hundred articles dealing with the subject of writing and publishing, things are bound to come full circle. Also, being a grandpa, I take full rights to be able to repeat things occasionally.
NOBODY WRITES IN A VACUUM
Nobody can write something in a vacuum. There has to be some kind of source. True, a story can sprout solely from your imagination. There’s nothing wrong with that. Fantasy is a good example. A memoir is another. However, even within those confines, there are times when one must get the facts straight. In a fantasy, conducting a sword fight, for instance, may require a touch of realism. Slashing a sword against a monster is fine and dandy. What’s that going to do to the wrist of our hero? What about the weight of that sword? What kind of wound is it going to leave? Little things you as a writer take for granted may stand out as a fatal flaw to the reader. What about your fantasy world? Are you deriving it from a well-established convention, or is your world unique? By unique, I mean totally unique. It would have to be to avoid all research.
In a memoir, despite copious notes you may have taken in a diary, you may describe something, yet have missed a detail. Do you need to call the hotel you stayed at and find out the name of that suite? Or, what day was it that they served crab? What year was it that the town you visited in 1975 had a major fire? The one where you saw the city hall burned to the ground?
WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW
Unless I’m writing in my fantasy world, when I write, I prefer to write what I know. It makes the research that much easier. However, as I’ve stated before many times, I know where I want to start and where I want to end. Everything in the middle is a total surprise. Because of that, I sometimes write myself into situations where I have to do some research. For example, that means my characters may travel to New Orleans but later, after a bit of digging, I discover they’re better off going to Morgan City. That’s why research is so important. I mentioned in an earlier article that the little things really count. For instance, one writer had a character using a silencer on a revolver. Anyone with basic gun knowledge knows you can’t use a silencer on a revolver!
For a seat-of-your-pants writer like me, research is a result of where the story takes me. When I get to a spot where the research doesn’t pan out, I either change the story or I follow my friend James Rollin’s advice. He once told me that if you can’t find out the exact details, or if they’re too complex, be vague. You obviously can’t be wrong, but you don’t have to be exactly dead on with descriptions or minutiae. Don’t get into so much detail you get yourself into trouble, just make sure what you describe is accurate.
RESEARCH CAN BE FUN!
Research can be a lot of fun. It can also be frustrating, hazardous and expensive. The Internet is a great tool. I’ve accomplished a lot with a mouse and creative searching. On rare occasions, I’ve taken a short trip. Most of my on-location research has been from places I’ve already been. Like I said, I like to write what I know. I’m not the rich author that goes all out to take trips around the world just to glean some minor detail to throw into an adventure. Sorry, maybe one day, but I’m not on the New York Times best seller list yet.
I’ve interviewed people by writing them and talking on the phone. For the most part, people enjoy being asked, especially if they know it’s for a book. Once in a while, they don’t and that’s when you have to back away. Know when to shut up and back off. This isn’t life or death. This isn’t the CIA. I’ve asked and visited a few people and places and had to cut and run, all to get a detail I didn’t end up using. For the rest, as a courtesy, it’s nice to remember who you talk to and acknowledge them at the back of the book.
If you’re writing non-fiction, the story is all about the research. No question. However, if you’re writing fiction, the story is the most important part. I read a lot of thrillers. In that genre, I’ve noticed a trend where there seems to be more importance put on the technical research and less on the story. It seems that the authors spend months researching and plotting out everything long before they ever sit down to write. Most of the time it seems to work but half the time, I feel like I’m getting a history lesson or I’m being lectured on politics or religion rather than getting a good story.
BALANCE
Ultimately, it’s up to you to set a balance for how much effort you want to put into research versus story. Are you out to entertain your readers with a good story, educate your readers, or a little of both? It’s a balance you have to decide. I’m not one for needing to include an extensive bibliography at the end of a fictional adventure story, yet some authors either do, or should. How many of you would actually read a bibliography?
Whatever you write, especially if it’s fiction, make sure it rings true for your genre. Do whatever research is necessary to make it real for your audience. If you do, it’ll not only make it real for them, but it’ll keep it real for you. If you don’t, they’ll surely pick up on it and they’ll let you know in the reviews! Check the one, two and three star reviews on Amazon. Discount all the ones that are there just to complain about Kindle this-or-that and look for the ones that say the author didn’t do their research. They stand out like a sore thumb.
“The author is a good story teller but should have done at least the most fundamental research. He should know that the town of Lompoc is pronounced “Lawm-poke” and not “Lawm-pock.”
“If the author had actually visited Russia in the new millennium, she would know that the KGB is no longer called the KGB.”
Don’t be embarrassed by making those big mistakes. Also, don’t forget that in almost every book, no matter how much research the author does, at the front you are likely to see a disclaimer where the author always says people and places are fictitious and that any mistakes are solely the fault of the author. CYA, of course!
Happy writing!