Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Wind Up

Right now, pitching is my life.

I'm still working on revisions for bits and pieces of what was formerly Project 2016 (I guess I'll need to give it a new name now), but I've by and large moved on to the querying process. For now, at least. Depending on how this round of submissions goes, I might end up back at the drawing board.

Queries are among the hardest things to write (the hardest thing is the synopsis, but that's a post for another day). It's hard to take 75,000 to 85,000 words and boil it down to a single eye-catching paragraph. You've got to introduce the protagonists. You've got to lay out the stakes. You've got to convince the agent/editor/publisher that your story is something special--something worth the financial risk. But you can't give away the ending. You can't reveal the twists and turns. Your Chekov's Gunsmen and their guns have to stay concealed.

The idea is that your query should read rather like the back cover copy you see on the books you find in a bookstore. Just enough information to set up a reader's expectations and to pique their interest without tilting the bean can too far.

This has been sort of a trial and error process for me. The early queries for Evin were terrible. As far as queries to agents went, I don't think I ever made it out of the slush pile. The rejections that I got were polite, but they were form letters.

By the time I sent a query to Evin's publisher, Foundations Books, I had figured out some of my missteps. I wouldn't call the final query I sent out sparkling--at least not by the standards I would use to judge myself today, nearly a year after the fact--but it was successful.

The queries for Delphinus have been considerably better. I've still gotten rejections, but they've been more helpful--more specific. Whatever I've done in the query has been enough to get people to read through the sample pages and respond directly to what they've seen there.

I'm still working on getting better at my written pitches in the only way that I know how: by pitching projects. By the time this post goes up (I'm writing in advance--part of my get-back-on-track-time-management plan), I should have heard back on the latest one. This time, I'm proposing the story I want to write to a publisher. It seems like that should be easier, since you haven't written a work that's locked you in to anything yet, but it was just as frustrating and complicated as any I've written.

And all of this is without even getting into spoken pitches--so-called elevator pitches, because they ideally take no longer to run through than a short elevator ride. Narrowing down to a paragraph or so is difficult. Trying to sum up a novel in a few sentences (I think something like 35 words is about the length people tend to shoot for) is Herculean. I don't yet have a strategy for making these better--most of my talking about my projects is me waving my arms and word-vomming at my writing group partner. It's possible that the Twitter Pitch Parties that happen every few months might be the best tool for this--maybe I'll try tooling around with that a little.

Pitching's part of the process that I'm not great at (though, honestly, there are times when I'm not particularly good at any parts of the process), but I'm hoping that through time and effort, I'll improve. The evidence seems to point that way so far. Until I  make it, I'll just consider these earlier efforts the wind up.

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