learning to query: lessons from #DVPit

The first time I thought about being a published author one day I was maybe 16 or 17 (my memories from my teenage years are a bit fuzzy). I remember trying to search the internet for how to get your novel published and being terrified by TOR’s website (because they were like the one publisher I could think of to search.) I remember learning you needed an agent (that’s how things were back then) and letting the paralyzing anxiety take over and shelved that train of inquiry.

I didn’t really try to figure it out again until I saw a few tweets about #DVPit even though I had decided a few years prior that I was going to publish a book (and hopefully more) and be an author. Going in I had no idea what I was doing.

The intention had to write this a while back with everything fresh in my mind, but with extra time to reflect I think I’ve actually been able to distill the pieces of advice that have actually stuck with me. No matter what happens next I’m confident that my experience with #DVPit has helped me learn more about the industry I’m trying to break into.

At the start I’d never written a pitch, a cover letter, or a synopsis.

I had written roughly 5 novels.

These are completely different skill sets.

Writing a pitch is like distilling your novel into something refined. You’ve been in it, writing it for so long, that you forget what it’s about. You know what it is, how it lives, how it breathes… but you forget how to think about it as anything other than something you experienced.

In writing a pitch you have to make people fall in love with this big project in just a few words. My first few pitches were objectively pretty terrible. They were general and cliche, but I found they were a good anchor and starting place. The first few I tried to pack it all into just one tweet. Nothing got said and the idea fell flat.

With the help of many lovely folk offering critiques honestly shout out to Jenn Polish, Ryan Douglas, Ryan La Sala & Jennifer Ferguson for looking over my twitter pitches, and Danny LoreIsabel Sterling, Ronan Sadler, & Paige Cober for looking over my query and first few pages. There were also several others that left feedback during #PreDV day that was so useful.

I’m fairly certain each of these folks saw a different iteration of my pitches, query, and pages. Between advice given and further research that I did (I did so much research and I wished I’d bookedmarked all my pages so I could share) I went from having a not very strong presentation of my novel to one that got me a decent number of interested agents during #DVPit.

And I’m still learning. I’m adapting as I pitch, because I’ve dug into pitching the old fashioned way, one query at a time, unsolicited.

I wanted to share though, some of the advice that encouraged me to dig in and make some big changes to what I had written:

“this also works as one tweet, but you have three “hooks” in it”

This was from one of the first pieces of feedback I had. I was trying to do too much at once. By teasing out my ideas into their own separate pitches I was able to craft something much more engaging.

“writers try to summarize the entire book in a couple of paragraphs. It leads to vague over-sweeping statements instead of specifics. Successful queries often highlight some specific plot points and character quirks, even if it means leaving out parts of the overall story. Take out some of those general statements on theme and character in favor of specific examples.”

Again with me trying to get it all in there. I think this goes along with the show don’t tell feedback in that, if you dive in deep on something instead of glossing over it, that element becomes stronger.

“The pitch needs more specificity about the circumstances than the final line, which reads as pretty abstract.”

I think out of desperation I started relying on cliches instead of explaining the detail that made my story unique. No matter how well the cliche fits, it doesn’t necessarily read well if you don’t get the right supporting details in.

“There could be more urgency in the pitch you have right now. It sounds a little more like a good synopsis than a pitch as it is. I’ve learned that urgency can go a long way with agents.”

Details are good, but so is leaving out some of the details. The synopsis is the place to give it all away, but your pitch, your query. You gotta give folks just enough to want to read the whole thing and not a bit more.

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punk rock ballerina. writer. adventurer.

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