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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pitching and Querying in the Digital Age

Since the advent of digital querying, the game has changed drastically. However, some things never change. Particularly what the editor or agent is looking for hasn’t changed at all – simply how you go about pitching the material has changed.
It used to be that the majority of agents and editors only wanted snail mailed queries. Over the past few years this has shifted and the majority of agents want emailed queries. It makes it very easy for the author to fire off a query – but the same amount of time spent on the traditional query letter should still be spend on the query email. Not all editors want to hear from authors through email and it’s important to adhere to published guidelines as to what they want and how they want to receive it. Some publishing houses have even set up online forms for querying. Look at the guidelines for Avon Books by clicking here.
Below you will find my article on writing the query letter.
My expertise in is the fiction realm, but there are many excellent articles on non-fiction. Below I’ve included links to some you will want to consult.
For fiction queries, the first thing you will need to create is the pitch or blurb. Generally this is a one to two sentence encapsulation of what your book is about. There are many methods for creating excellent pitch statements, but the main things I think you need to get across are very simple.
Who is the book about?
What does this character want?
Why does he want it?
Why can’t he have it?
No matter the version of pitch creation you use, these main questions are always answered. The reason is the editor or agent wants to see if your story is unique or captivating in some way. They want to see the conflict because emotion stems from the conflict (and that’s why reader’s read).
Below is a link to my workshop on writing the pitch as well as my online pitch generator. It’s important to read the article before trying the pitch generator, because the sentence you create through the generator needs to be tweaked with the information in the article. Click here for the pitch workshop. Click here for my pitch generator.
Here is an excellent article on pitching at Writers Digest.
Once you create this pitch, you will likely use it both before you sell the book, for elevator pitches, query letters, and in your synopsis, but likely also after you have sold the book (for your marketing materials). You’ll be glad you took the time to write the best blurb possible!
I’m more than happy to answer any questions you have! – KC
~~~~~ *** ~~~~~
Query Letter Basics
by Kathy Carmichael

A rite of passage as a novelist is trying to interest an editor or literary agent in your book. The first step in approaching an editor or agent is usually the query letter. Editors and agents receive hundreds of manuscripts each week. They ask authors to query in an attempt to manage the material that arrives on their desks. They want to receive the kinds of books they publish and that will interest their readership.
By using the following tips, you will increase your chances of an editor or agent asking to read your partial or complete manuscript.
1. You need to include the blurb or pitch on your book. What are the hooks? What will make a reader want to read your book?
2. Include your publication experience. If you haven't yet sold a book, have you had articles published? Short stories? Have you won writing contests? If you have published, have you been honored in any way (awards, contests, bestseller lists)?
3. If you belong to any writing organizations, include them.
4. Optional: What makes you the authority for writing this book or type of book? For instance, if you're an attorney and writing about a fictional attorney detective, that would have meaning to the publisher. If your work experience does not add credibility to your writing, then it's probably best to omit it. For instance, if you're an accountant and writing science fiction that doesn't have an accountant protagonist, then there's no need to mention your day job.
5. Offer to revise if the story is close. Editors prefer to work with authors who are easy to work with.
6. Be sure to include your name, address, phone, and, if this is snail mail, send an SASE.
7. If this is snail mail, you might wish to include a 1-2 page synopsis, but no longer than that unless the editor has requested it. For electronic submissions, include only what the editor or agent has requested. It’s very important to adhere to their guidelines because some publishing professionals will reject your submission based on that.
8. Try to keep your query letter to only one page in length. If you are sending this by snail mail, your query letter would be one page plus the 1-2 page synopsis.
9. Include any built-in audience (like a newspaper column or web blog or website with a big readership), marketing hooks, tips, information about your target audience if non-fiction. Editors and agents like to see that you have the potential to sell a number of books to an audience you already have.

10. Do not include cutesy stuff! No negativity. Don't tell the editor that your book received rejections from 50 other publishers. Don't tell her your book doesn't fit her guidelines (if it doesn't fit their guidelines as to what they publish, then do not send it there!). Don't offer a bribe or threaten him. Don't send your query on cutesy letterhead or weird paper. This is a business, so treat your query like a business letter. Your query can be written in your personal voice and style, and it doesn't have to be dry. Shoot for professional.

Possible format for a query letter:

Paragraph One:
Your pitch
Paragraph Two:
About you. (Depending on how your background ties to your book, this might take 2 paragraphs)
Paragraph Three (Optional):
Your closing (where you can mention offering to revise or possible target audiences etc)
Paragraph Four (Optional):
If you included a synopsis, this is where you mention it.
Thank the agent for her/his time.
Also mention that you look forward to hearing from her/him.


Dear (Mr. or Ms.) (Editor/Agent's Last Name):

A CATCHER IN THE CORN is a story about a female CIA agent who infiltrates an organized crime ring in Omaha, Nebraska, and must learn who the leader is before he destroys all the cornfields in the Midwest. Is it possible that the leader is none other than the teen baseball whiz who escorted her to the high school prom?
I've published several short stories and my web blog has a larger readership. I belong to a local writers group, Name of Group, as well as regularly attending a regional writing conference, Name of Conference. I was drawn to write this book because my five-year career as a CIA agent gives me an insider's view into how an undercover agent operates.
Enclosed you will find a two-page synopsis of the book as well as a self-addressed postage-paid enveloped. Thank you for your time and consideration. I'm really looking forward to hearing from you and learning what you think!


Your Name

In addition to the above tips, your obvious enthusiasm for your story can evoke a similar response. Always remember, you can't sell books you don't submit. Querying is the first step in the journey to publication!
~~~~~ *** ~~~~~
Award-winning author, Kathy Carmichael, writes mysteries, women's fiction and romance. Her 2009 release, HOT FLASH, was named by the American Library Association's BOOKLIST as one of the Top 10 Romance Fiction titles for 2009. Her latest release (and her first mystery novel), DIARY OF A CONFESSIONS QUEEN, received a starred review from BOOKLIST. In addition her novels, she's sold short stories and wrote a bi-monthly column on the business of writing for a national writing trade magazine. Additionally, Kathy is a contest judge for Writers Digest. For more information about Kathy or to read her other articles on writing, please visit her website at www.KathyCarmichael.com.


Shirley said...

Kathy, thanks so much for joining us today.

I noticed that a few of your links didn't come through on the above article. Could you tell us where to go for the agent pitch generator? Did I miss something?

Kathy Carmichael said...

Hi Shirley! Thanks for having me guest blog today! Here's some of the missing URLs:

Avon submission URL:


Writers Digest URL:


URL for the pitch workshop.


URL for my pitch generator.


kathy said...

Kathy, I want to thank you for your detailed information and for graciously including an example.

Shirley said...

WOW. I went to your pitch generator and filled in the blanks with my WIP. How cool! Did you create this yourself? You must be quite the computer geek! (That's a good thing!)

Kathy Carmichael said...

Hi Kathy! Thanks!

Hi Shirley! Thank you! I have a tamed computer geek who did the programming for my generator :) :)

So glad you liked it!

The result from the generator is just a rough draft to get you thinking. But using the tips on my pitch article will help develop it :)

Beth said...

Hi, Kathy.

Great post and very helpful advice. I'm dreading the synopsis more than the query letter. How do you boil down a 80,000-90,000 word novel into two pages?

Do you mention all secondary characters? Tell the ending of the story? I believe you do tell the ending from what I've read.

Any synopsis advice or examples would be helpful. I finished my women's fiction novel last summer and haven't sent it out because I keep putting off writing the darn synopsis!

Beth said...

Another question I have is writing in different genres. BTW, I LOVE the title HOT FLASH.

I, too, write in different genres and some people tell me that confuses readers, if you do that you need a pen name and so on.

I noticed you write romance, women's fiction and now mystery. I do the same--except suspense rather than mystery and also children's picture books. Do you use a pen name or your name on all your books? Has anyone said writing in different genres will confuse your readers?

Beth said...

Do you use an agent? If so, do you have any recommendations on getting one?

I subscribe to Writer's Digest which often mentions new agents and also follow several agents' blogs. I'm wondering if I should pitch to my top five or ten agents first or try pitching to some newer agents in the beginning? Maybe they'd be a little more hungry?

RTHRBRTN said...

Thanks for joining us on Sleuth's Ink, Kathy. You give useful advice that many of us will use.

Vicki said...

Great post Kathy! I love your pitch generator. :)

My synopsis took me the longest to write. I wanted to include everything, including the secondary characters. After a bunch of rewrites and studying your site, as well as a couple of others, I realized they really didn't need to know about everyone. The H/H and their journey was the thing.

Without your fabulous information it would have taken me even longer to realize that.

Lois K. said...

I picked up a copy of Diary of a Confessions Queen at BAM yesterday. I'm halfway now and loving it. The story, which is lively as the characters, draws you in. Shirley is a confession writer sometimes, so she should identify with Amy a bit.:) It's a fine line between humor, life situations we all have, and scary. Very layered book, done well.

Beth said...

Can't wait to try your pitch generator when I return from vacation.

Shirley said...

I feel the need to go by a bookstore now, Lois. I was wondering if you could buy the book at a B&N or Borders.

That pitch generator is pretty cool, Beth.

Kathy, did you sell this book through an agent?

Kathy Carmichael said...

Oh wow! Lots of questions! I posted my synopsis seminar script on my website. There's a general fiction version and a romance version. Go to this url to find them: http://www.kathycarmichael.com/articles-and-seminars/articles-and-workshops/

While I had an agent when I sold to Medallion, she didn't handle it (although she did advise me on what to ask for during negotiations).

Beth: My foray into various genres has been kind of accidental! I wrote romance and when I sold to Medallion, it was for women's fiction. However, the first book had a strong romance and the second a strong mystery, so they decided to market the books that way LOL! Since everything I write has comedy and romance in it, so far no one has said my genre choices have been confusing to readers -- but that remains to be seen!

Kathy Carmichael said...

Beth: My best advice for searching for an agent is to look for someone new who is with an established agency. That way you get the strength of the big agency behind you, but an agent who is actively looking for authors to represent!

Kathy Carmichael said...

Lois: Thank you so much for buying my book and for your kind words! Coming from you, it makes me feel like a "real" writer :D

Thank you!

Palooski65 said...


Great information! Thanks for sharing so liberally with our group. I'll re-read it many times to be sure I've not missed any tips.

Glad you joined us online--appreciate the pitching/querying direction.

StephanieJ said...

Thank you so much for all the great website information and for your generosity with your pitch generator. That's great to get the creative juices flowing. After Lois' wonderful review of your book - I'm heading out and getting it also! (and not from the library). Your advice has helped with building my flagging confidence for pitching my work to an agent etc (instead of out the window!)

Stephanie Jarkins

Rosemary said...

Thank you, Kathy for giving us such great information for queying. And your pitch generator is awesome!!!!

Beth- if you like Kathy's book title HOT FLASH, trust me you'll love the book more. Run, don't walk to the nearest bookstore and buy it.

I'm looking forward to Diary Of A Confessions Queen!

Kathy Carmichael said...

Shirley: I think my book can be bought at or ordered through most bookstores: B&N, BAM, Borders, the Indies, Amazon, etc :)

Thanks Palooski and Stephanie!

There's nothing wrong with checking books out from the library! I love libraries :) -- KC

Kathy Carmichael said...

Rosemary: Thanks so much!

I'm really happy that you enjoyed HOT FLASH, too :D -- KC

Shirley said...

Kathy, thank you so much for stopping by and answering our questions. If you could stop by later this evening and see if there are any more, that would be great. Some people may not get a chance to comment until later.

Also, would you like to do the honors of drawing a winner for the free book giveaway?

Thanks again. I'll definitely be using your links a LOT!!

Kathy Carmichael said...

Thanks again for having me as a guest blogger!!!

I've drawn a name as the winner of the autographed copy of Diary of a Confessions Queen:


Shirley, can you send me her snail mail address and real name so I can autograph the book to her?

I've had lots of fun posting here today. Thank you to all! And thanks Shirley! -- KC

Beth said...

I plan to buy both of your books. In fact, I think I'll do that today so I can read one on the plane tomorrow. Hardest decision? Which one to read first!

Thanks again for ALL the wonderful advice and great links. Glad Ginny won your book. I'll look for you on Facebook and/or Twitter. (I'm Beth's Banter or Beth Carter.)

Palooski65 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Shirley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathy Carmichael said...

Thanks so much, Beth. You are too kind! I'll look for you on FB and Twitter too :)

Virginia: Congrats on winning! I'll send the book to you on Monday :)

Everyone: I had lots of fun. Thanks so much for allowing me to guest blog!

Palooski65 said...

Hooray! I received my "Diary of a Confessions Queen" by snail mail today. The cover looks exciting--can't wait to curl up with it.

EmilyBryan said...

Very useful stuff!

Thanks for sharing,