The Types and Importance of Queries

Scattered Books Photo

Queries. Pitches. Synopses. Three words that strike fear into every author’s heart. And rightfully so — selling your book to an agent or editor depends on your ability to encapsulate your story’s heart into a few simple sentences. For most people, that’s a nearly impossible challenge. But perhaps if we look at why this practice is necessary, it will help you understand how to do it. So, I’m going to show you what I look for in a query. Keep in mind that these are solely my opinions, and other agents or editors may look for something else, but if you plan to follow along with #REUTSsubs in the near future (I’m currently working on resurrecting that feature), this will give you a glimpse at the thought process behind my decisions.

Let’s start by looking at the three potential ways you go about introducing your work to an agent or editor. They are:

  1. The Traditional Query Letter & Synopsis
  2. Pitching in Person
  3. Elevator Pitches on Social Media

All three serve the same purpose — hooking your audience into asking for more. That’s a phrase I’m sure you’ve all heard thrown around in writing seminars, but what does it actually mean? In essence, it means you break through someone’s focus enough to grab their full, complete attention and get them to react. In other words, it’s a sales tactic.

Now, I know many of you just groaned. Sales is about as far from writing and creativity as you can possibly get. But the truth is, publishing is a business. There are bottom lines to be met, production costs to worry about, returns on investments that have to happen, etc. So when you send in a proposal (which, let’s face it, is what these things really are — sales proposals), what you’re really doing is arguing why we should become your business partner for this venture. And you’d darn well better be convincing. Don’t you think?

So, how do you achieve that? What makes a sales proposal appealing to the potential buyer? How do you turn indifference into “OMG, yes, I must read this”? Well, I look for a couple of key ingredients:

  • Interesting concept and premise
  • Unique attributes
  • Market potential

That’s it. Every time. Seriously.

Whenever I’m reviewing a pitch/query/etc, I ask myself the same three questions:

“Does this make me excited as a reader?” (This is more of a visceral reaction than a true question. Basically, I’m looking for that internal pique of interest, that “oooooo” factor.)

“What makes it different from everything else in its genre?” (The more specific the better on this front. Diverse cast? Unique twist or angle on the familiar? New setting?)

“What is it similar to/where would I put it on a shelf?” (This is ultimately the most important because it tells me A: where it fits within the REUTS catalog, and B: where it fits in the larger market and who its readership might be.)

All right, now let’s look at how you apply that insight, shall we? Because each type of pitch listed above is a slightly different opportunity to sell your work, and you shouldn’t use the same blanket strategy for each.

The Traditional Query Letter & Synopsis

First off, a query is not a synopsis and vice versa. They’re two separate entities used to achieve the same goal, but one is the lead singer, and the other is the band. You need both, but they serve completely different roles in the process.

Your query letter should be no more than 3-5 paragraphs, and its sole job is to pique the reader’s interest. It has to fit that criteria I listed above. It needs to give just enough information for me to tell whether or not it could be a fit for REUTS. So focus only on the most important aspects — the conflict and stakes that drive your story, sprinkled with a little info on the world/character and just a hint of what makes your manuscript different from the rest. Give me the heart of the tale; I don’t care about the rest yet.

Other things I need to know are genre, target audience, and comp titles (comparable books that might bear similarity to yours). Genre tells me where it fits in the bookstore and who it might appeal to, target audience tells me who I’m going to get to read it, and comp titles give me an instant snapshot of what to expect in terms of feel/tone/theme/style, etc. (One caveat on choosing comp titles: aim for ones that aren’t genre heavy-hitters, but that are prominent enough I’m likely to have heard of them. Also, the more unique the mash-up, the quicker I’ll be able to pin-point my expectations as reader.)

And that’s it. 3-4 paragraphs should easily be enough room to capture all of that, once you isolate the key things an agent/editor looks for. Your final paragraph should be about you, what you bring to the table in terms of experience, etc. Honestly though, most of the time, we kind of skim that info. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it to us, just that more weight is placed on the content of the story than your particular pedigree.

IF you’ve achieved your goal and hooked my interest, I’ll dive right into the sample pages (because a great pitch does not always mean great execution), and if those pass the quality test, I’ll check out the synopsis. A synopsis is a glorified outline. It tells me the highlights of your story in 1-3 pages. It should capture the emotions, the main conflicts, some of the character motivations, and the entire narrative arc. The details of your world, sub-plots, supporting cast, etc, aren’t as important; the structure of your overall story is.

Manage to hold my interest through all of that, and guess what? You’ve just earned a full manuscript request. (I’m pretty sure this is the process most agents/editors go through, but some of the particulars may vary a little.)

Pitching in Person

Ah, now, this is a whole different game — one part speed dating, one part American Idol audition, all rolled into a giant ball of anxiety for everyone involved. But it’s a very viable option if you have the chance. Out of 55 total pitches I heard at the Willamette Writers Conference last summer, I requested samples (and even some fulls!) of 48 manuscripts. The idea behind this is much the same as the process above, except you only have 4-10 minutes, if you’re lucky, and have to talk to an actual person. Terrifying stuff, for sure.

So what’s the key in this scenario? Be a human. Don’t stiffly recite your memorized query letter while you stare at the table. Engage with us! Take that query you wrote above and hone it even more. In a 10 minute pitch session, your pitch should take up no more than 2-3 minutes, max. Give us the bare bones, the core of your story, and then let us come to you. Think of it like baiting a wild animal; you don’t give away the whole dinner up front, you toss out some crumbs and lure us into the trap. Or, in other, less poetic words, give us time to ask questions.

A face-to-face pitch session should feel more like a conversation, and every agent/editor will hone in on something different. So leave yourself room to answer those questions. If you don’t, and you babble through all 10 minutes, you might end up not getting a request at all. Because that tidbit in the middle that you glossed over? Yeah, that was the one thing that agent/editor was looking for, and you didn’t give them time to find that out.

Your mission in an in-person pitch is simply to get that business card (See? American Idol golden ticket, right?) and a request to see more. That’s it. You’re not going to be signed on the spot, and you’re not going to give us your entire book on a silver platter. It’s simply the first step to a longer conversation.

Elevator Pitches on Social Media

Have you guessed the reason behind this order yet? It’s because they get progressively shorter and shorter. Much like pitching in person, an elevator pitch on social media should comprise the basics of your story. It should only contain the hook, the thing that is most likely to get people to stop and say “ooo, that sounds good.” You have 140 characters, so every letter has to count. Which is why you really only want two things (aside from genre/audience): the stakes/conflict, and what makes your story different. Again, you’re not trying to cram your whole book into 140 characters; that’s madness. You’re only trying to get us to want more. Which is why including that unique-factor is crucial.

To win this round, all you have to do is get a favorite from one of the stalking agents/editors, which then results in a submission of what? The first type of pitch: a traditional query letter and synopsis. It all comes back around to create a massive circle of Submission Hell.

But there you have it, a breakdown of both why pitching is necessary and my particular thought process for evaluating them. I would be remiss if I didn’t note that this article originally appeared on the REUTS Publications blog, and I have syndicated it here for a couple reasons. One, I realized I have yet to actually talk about queries over here, and I hate trying to rewrite something I’ve already written. And two, I wanted to bring that blog to your attention, in case you didn’t know we had one. As the Acquisitions and Editorial Director for REUTS, it’s my sometimes job to add helpful articles and info over there too, specifically in regards to a post series titled Adventures in the Slush Pile, which will showcase the query/response process in real time. So if you’re a fan of #tenqueries on Twitter, that might be something you’re interested in. And if not, then don’t worry. I’ll syndicate some of the more helpful articles here as well, when time and permissions allow.

Until next week, happy pitching! 😉

Featured From the Archives: Sarcasm; It’s Not for Everyone

All right, I know I promised that we’d be returning to the info-filled posts of yore, but after a week of battling a heat-induced sinus-migraine, I’m a bit lacking in the spare brain cells department. Plus, I’ve done a lot of serious posts over the past months/years, and when I look back through the archives, I realize just how much I miss the more lighthearted, humorous ones. So hopefully I can bring back some of the snark I used to possess, which seems to have fallen into the same elusive black hole as my artistic skills and the socks stolen by the Dryer Gnomes. In the meantime though, this is the perfect post to help inspire some humor.

Sarcasm; It’s Not for Everyone

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 6/15/12

By now I’m sure you’ve gleaned that sarcasm and I are BFFs. And if you haven’t, let me spell it out for you: sarcasm and I are BFFs. There, don’t you feel enlightened?😉

But while I’m a huge fan of the cleverly timed sarcastic quip, not everyone is. Some people fail to see the humor in wittily worded insults and beautifully snide observations. (There must be something wrong with them. Who doesn’t love some clever, snarky banter?) Just like I fail to see the humor in Slap-Stick, Blunder, or Practical Jokes. (Which no one will ever convince me are anything but dumb and ridiculous.) I mean, really, why is it hysterical when some moron hits himself in the groin? Or falls over trying something that’s obviously going to end with a concussion and broken bones? Or farts. Seriously, just farts. Comedic genius? I think not.

I was often told growing up that I didn’t have a sense of humor. But as I got older, I realized that, no, I just didn’t have their sense of humor. But that didn’t mean I was/am completely devoid of appreciation for all things humorous. I’m just particular about it. Which brings us to the point of this week’s rather short installment.

Humor is subjective.

And I don’t believe that any one type of humor is better than another. Really, I don’t, I swear! (She says with fingers crossed behind her back.) The important thing is that something makes you laugh. And for better or for worse, sarcasm (along with irony and satire), is what does it for me.

Why is it the perfect mate for my breed of humor? I’m not really sure. Maybe I was hard-wired that way. Maybe it’s a by-product of growing up on shows like Friends and Seinfeld (which I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit I still watch daily on re-run). Maybe it’s because it lets me be a snarky ass and get away with it, earning me approval points instead of derision. Or maybe it’s because I just can’t resist pointing out when someone does something painfully obvious and stupid.

But most probably it’s because, in my eyes, sarcasm requires the most intelligence to pull off. And I find intelligence on anyone sexy. To me, it doesn’t seem like it would require much straining of the brain to conjure up jokes revolving around disgusting bodily functions, or to create ridiculous scenarios the audience can see coming a mile away. And don’t even get me started on the number of beyond-stupid things people post on Youtube — a phenomena I have yet to be overly amused by, but that will entertain my husband for hours upon days upon weeks. Half the time, when he shows me a montage of some idiot doing things even idiots should know better than to try, he’s met with a dead-pan stare and raised eyebrow that says, “Why? Why would you waste my time with that?” I just don’t get it. Sorry. But billions of people do, apparently. Hence the long-standing success of America’s Funniest Home Videos, a show whose sole purpose is to crown the royalty of morons with $10,000 for their stupidity. Just saying.

As a writer, I have a fine sense of appreciation for the brilliant usage of words. Which, in the humor department, usually stands hand in hand with sarcasm. I like it because it’s subtle. It doesn’t stand in the room with a neon sign flashing over it’s head, screaming, “laugh now!” It’s simply a statement of the obvious. A twisted and bitter version perhaps, but still. It’s put out there and just is. You either find it funny, or you don’t. The validity of the statement isn’t void if no one finds it funny. It makes the person who said it seem like a pretentious d-bag, but the observation still stands. Case in point, I’m sure those of you that adore videos of people doing stupid things would agree that I now sound like a judgmental jerk.

But fear not, the beauty of humor is that it can often be combined, appealing to several comedic preferences at once.

Below is one of the few videos I’ve found (okay, had force-fed to me because I rarely ever hang out on Youtube) that combines both idiocy and sarcasm, and does it well. Copyright belongs to the brilliant minds of Break Originals, and I make no claims to it. I just thoroughly enjoy it and am not ashamed to say I still laugh every time I watch it. Making it the perfect way to close a post about humor. Enjoy!

Warning: Contains heavy sarcasm, people being injured, and country music. And I’m pretty sure a few exercise balls were harmed in the making of this video.

Book Feature: Princess of Tyrone by Katie Hamstead

From the moment I heard about this series, I was excited. It’s got all the makings of something I’m going to truly love — fairy tales, science fiction, and an author whose work I know I already adore. Ready to see more about it? Here you go!

Princess of Tyrone Book Cover

Apolline is happy hunting magical creatures on her pirate infested outer-perimeter planet. She is a fantastic shot, and doesn’t flinch at the blood and guts of her kills. Never once did she consider she could be the missing Princess of Tyrone.

All her life, she has heard the story of the Princess, cursed to sleep for eternity, unless her betrothed, the Prince of Oran, gave her true love’s kiss. Although Apolline knows she is betrothed, she thinks her fairy guardians arranged it out of ignorance of human ways. The thought she could be a princess is inconceivable.

Then Allard appears. Handsome, charming—but he’s not hers to have. He’s betrothed, too. Her guardians warn her against her new found friendship, but she and Allard meet in secret anyway. Despite her rough exterior, he sees beyond her gun-slinging bravado, and their love blossoms.

But the deadline for the sleeping curse is approaching. If Apolline falls in love with the wrong person, she could end up sleeping forever.

A quirky, adventurous retelling of Sleeping Beauty, with a less than princess-ly princess!

Doesn’t that sound amazing? I was supposed to give you my thoughts on it today, but unfortunately, life has prevented me from reading it enough to provide a proper review. However, if there’s one thing I know about Hamstead’s work, it’s that I’m sure to enjoy it. I’m exceedingly excited to see what she does with this unconventional twist on a fairy tale we all know and love, and I’ll be sure to post the full review when I’m done. In the meantime, here’s one of the pretty teaser graphics to entice you and the link to the giveaway celebrating the book’s release (below).

Be sure to check it out!

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About the Author:

katie hamsteadBorn and raised in Australia, Katie’s early years of day dreaming in the “bush”, and having her father tell her wild bedtime stories, inspired her passion for writing.

After graduating High School, she became a foreign exchange student where she met a young man who several years later she married. Now she lives in Arizona with her husband, daughter and their dog.

She has a diploma in travel and tourism which helps inspire her writing.

When her debut novel, Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh, climbed into bestselling status, she believed she was onto something, and now has a slew of novels now available, and is published through Curiosity Quills Press, Soul Mate Publishing, and REUTS Publications.

Katie loves to out sing her friends and family, play sports, and be a good wife and mother. She now works as an Acquisitions Editor to help support her family. She loves to write, and takes the few spare moments in her day to work on her novels.

Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes & Noble | Rafflecopter Giveaway

 

The 2016 Conference Circuit

Happy Friday everyone! While today is, in fact, April Fool’s Day, this post isn’t a joke. Trust me, my normal MO when I see April 1st looming on the calendar is this:

april_fools_by_xkari_chan-d5q3xbb

But it’s also a Friday this year, and I promised myself I would try and get back into posting more regularly. Which means I’m going to brave the prank-laden waters and send something out into the internet void. It’s not my usual style of article, but I still think it’s pretty cool. Or at least moderately helpful. So, here goes . . .

My 2016 Conference Schedule

(aka Where to Stalk Me)

Now that I’m the acquisitions director for REUTS Publications, I find myself involved in more conferences/workshops/book fairs. I also realize that many of you follow me because of that there job title, and might actually want to know about the various places you could come stalk meet me. So I’m adding a new page where I’ll list any cool events I’ll be attending throughout the upcoming months/years. Sound good? Good.

Here are this year’s current planned appearances (that sounds so weird! Like I’m famous or something. Haha. But I guess that’s what you call it?):

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May 13-14: I’ll be there manning the REUTS Publications table in the WWA’s Bookstore and Writer Services Market, so be sure to come and say hi! REUTS Pub founder and Creative Director Ashley Ruggirello will be on site hearing pitches that day, as well, in case any of you are interested. 😉

PNWA Logo

July 28-31: I’m super excited to be attending the PNWA Summer Writers’ Conference this year. I’ve heard great things about it, and I look forward to both accepting pitches from amazing authors like you and having the opportunity to participate on a few panels (including one with my good friend, Cait Spivey)! There will be lots of chances to find me at this one, so if you’re in the Seattle area, check it out.

willamette-writers-conference-logo

August 12-14: This will be my second year attending the Willamette Writers Conference as faculty, and I’m extremely honored to have the opportunity. If you can’t make it to Seattle to see my presentation with Cait, you’ll have a chance to catch it again here. We’ll be giving you tips on what to do after you’ve received an edit letter, how you implement suggested changes into a work you thought you’d already perfected. It’s going to be (we hope) insightful, and include things you might not have heard about the author-editor relationship, so hopefully we’ll see you there! (I’ll also be accepting pitches here again, as well as providing a few Advanced Manuscript Critique opportunities, so be sure to check those out too if you’re planning on attending and want to work with me.)

Boise Bookfest

October 15: The details of this one are still being worked out, but I believe I’ll be accepting pitches, presenting on an as yet undecided topic (likely regarding fight scenes in fiction), and potentially hanging out at a REUTS Publications table to talk all things books with whoever wants to chat. Maybe I’ll see some of you there?

All right, that’s all I’ve got this week. I do hope to see some of you at these events. Remember, I don’t bite, and chocolate is not required to talk to me but is always appreciated. Oh, and I have martial arts training, so maybe keep the stalking to the non-literal type? ‘k thanks, bye.

From the Editor’s Desk: Dissolution by Lee S. Hawke

I’ve been kind of slacking on those book reviews I promised at the start of the year, but don’t worry, I’ve got a great one for you today. From the moment this author approached me about working on Dissolution, I knew I was going to love it. And when I read it, I was blown away by their talent. So it’s been hard for me to keep quiet, waiting for it to release. Thankfully, that moment has finally come and I can tell you all just how much I recommend you go buy this immediately. 😉

But first, here’s a little more info about this amazing novella:

Dissolution

by Lee S. Hawke

Dissolution by Lee S. Hawke

What would you sell yourself for?

Madeline knows. She’s spent the last eighteen years impatiently waiting for her Auctioning so she can sell herself to MERCE Solutions Limited for a hundred thousand credits. But when the Auctioneer fails to call her and two suits show up at her doorstep, Madeline discovers there are far worse bargains to be made.

So when your loved ones are in danger, there’s a bounty on your head, and your entire city might turn out to be a lie . . . what would you sell yourself for?

Now, I know what you’re thinking — yay, another dystopian to add to all the other dystopians flooding the market. But trust me, this one is unlike anything you’ve read. Yes, it does have some shades of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and even a bit of The Giver embedded in it, but the premise underneath those elements is refreshing, different, and thought-provoking. Everything a good science fiction tale should be.

Hawke’s world is dominated by corporations, and a person’s value is entirely dependent on how much they can give — what their productivity is likely to be, how their skills rank against the corporations’ needs. They’re not people, they’re drones, slaves. Licensed IP to be bought and traded and sold. It’s chilling, and a cautionary message to the workaholics of the world.

But while there is a very strong thread of social commentary running throughout, it takes a back seat to the larger tale, which is an action-packed cyberpunk thriller in the vein of Phillip K. Dick.

Madeline (Maddie) has spent her entire life dreaming of escape from ANRON Life Limited, pegging all her hopes on the possibility of being purchased by MERCE, the more technology oriented corporation where she can put her modding skills to good use and where she’ll no longer be a human lab rat. But after years of rigorous trials and tests, competition, and an interview process that feels more like an interrogation than an interview, she finds that there was never any chance for escape. Her life has always belonged to ANRON, and now, they want it back. They’re revoking her license, sentencing her to death in the name of science.

And she’s having none of it. Alone, disconnected from the technology that serves as a lifeline for most of the city’s denizens, and on the run, she learns the true difference between good and evil. And in the process, she discovers that the corporations aren’t as untouchable as they seem.

Brilliant, emotional, and intelligent, Dissolution is a highly satisfying read. It is a novella, but don’t let that scare you off. It’s a complete, self-contained, and moving tale that will challenge you to rethink your own views on corporations and technology in general. It’s a smart, well-written, amazing piece of storytelling and should not be missed.

And if you’d like a little additional incentive to check out this book, the author is hosting a crowdfunding campaign at the moment to help support The Royal Society of Victoria, an organization that promotes science education in Australia. So head on over there if you’d like to support a fantastic new author while also donating to a worthy cause.

For everyone else, here are the pertinent book links: Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes & Noble