To stay true to my objective for 2012, I am returning to technicalities this week, and touching on the basics of submitting to an agent or editor.
Following a whirl-wind trip through ,
- Creative Writing for Beginners,
- Common Mistakes,
- The Writer's Brain, and
it is time for me to start thinking about submitting a manuscript to an agent or editor.
Below, I have outlined the recommendations contained in Your Novel Proposal: From Creation to Contract by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook.
[This book was published in 1999. If anyone can and would like to offer more accurate or up-to-date advice, especially from experience, please do so.]
STEP 1 - The Approach:
1. The Query Letter is a one-page letter usually sent on its own, in accordance with the agent or editor's submission guidelines. It should contain,
- the hook - a special plot detail or unique approach;
- the handle - something to hold on to, like a theme or comparison;
- a mini-synopsis - main characters, core conflict, plot high points, setting and time period;
- your credentials - how are you qualified and why are you interested?
- your credits - do not apologize or mention no credits;
- what you are offering - title, word count, genre;
- the closing - offer to sent the complete manuscript.
2. The Pitch:
A pitch line is a short, punchy, oral presentation of your plot. It must contain the 'hook' that your book contains. It can be used,
- when meeting an agent at a writing conference,
- when friends and family ask about your project,
- when you unexpectedly meet someone who could help you find an agent or editor (like Stephen King in an elevator - you know what I'm talking about),
- as the first line of your query letter.
STEP 2 - The Package:
Okay, you're talking the talk, and your query letters have been sent far and wide. When the phone call or email arrives that says, 'I want to see more,' any boy scout could tell you that zipping the material through straight away will carry more oomph than material sent after weeks of fluffing around. Here are the things agents or editors might ask to see:
3. A Cover Letter:
This may not be requested, but if it's not included, the recipient will have to sift through stacks of paper to find basic information. It should,
- be formatted as a business letter, with date, names and addresses left aligned,
- reference previous correspondence if appropriate,
- summarize your purpose and reason for approaching this particular person,
- state credentials,
- close professionally.
4. Sample Chapters:
This means the first chapters (perhaps one through three), not what you consider the best chapters. Camenson and Cook recommend sending the prologue if it is similar to the rest of the story, and not sending the prologue if it is set in a different time and place.
5. The First Fifty Pages:
Instead of sample chapters, an agent or editor may ask for the first fifty pages. When editing and preparing for submission, keep in mind how your chapters or first fifty pages end. Think, "I've got to know what happens next!"6. Synopsis:
This is a summary of the story, ideally no longer than a few pages, written in present tense and third person, and in a tone that reflects the style of the work. This is no time to be shy: jump into the action, and reveal the ending.
A synopsis should include:
- the hook,
- sketches of the main characters,
- the core conflict,
- plot high points, and
- the conclusion.
7. Chapter Outline:
A chapter outline employs the same style and tone as the synopsis, but describes the story in much more detail, chapter by chapter.
8. Completed Manuscript:
No fiction writer would send out a query letter without first having a completed manuscript. Would they?
Exercise 97. Next time you need a break from your Work-in-Progress, compile a query letter, practice writing a strong one page synopsis, and work on your pitch. Be clear and confident about the hook.
Exercise 98. Read your first three chapters and your first fifty pages like an agent might. Does your story's beginning 'end' in tension or suspense. Test it out on willing readers if you can, or try the flogometer at Flogging the Quill.