Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Huh? What are you talking about?

We all remember that line from Jerry McGuire..."You had me at hello." It's a great line and one that really should be key to writing those query letters, synopses and first chapters. Editors and agents have a ton of things going on in their lives daily and, while this might seem unfair, that opening shot you fire needs to count! You have to have us hooked early on.

I bring this up, however, to look at the other side of the coin. I get all of the time (and I am sure other agents do as well) proposals for projects that make me sit there and say "HUH?" Now, I will admit there are times when this occurs but it is due to a long day, lack of sleep or too little coffee. However, most of the time, it really is the proposal. So, what do I do on this?

I pass.

I know this sounds harsh but I pass on the project. A colleague of mine uses the phrase, "if it is a maybe, it is a no" to guide her thinking when it comes to new projects. She is right on the money with this. For me, if I get a project that I have no idea what is going on, I am not going to chase after it in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, the project will be so amazing I have to sign it.

As a writer, it is crucial that you insure you have us at hello. Here are a few tips:

  • Your pitch has to be clear and concise giving the reader an exact picture of what the story is about. Don't just give us a pretty theme to work with.
  • Your query should be straightforward and to the point. Reading and reading just to get to the last line that finally sums up the story is not going to work.
  • I should not have to dig through the pages of material you sent just to figure out the basics about the book (the title, genre, word count and certainly your name).
  • Your synopsis should be the plot of the story. It is a storyboard of the entire novel, not a chance for you to attempt to show off your creative writing ability.
  • Your opening pages need to draw the reader into the story with an understanding of the character and the world. Sending me an email later complaining when I tell you it was slow and that things really are exciting in Chapter 5 should tell you something. 1-4 doesn't work.

Remember that in the real world, when you are applying for a job, the prospective employer is only looking at your cover letter and resume for 20-30 seconds. I hate to break it to you. The publishing world IS the real world.


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