Saturday, September 25, 2010

Query tips I learned from Kristin Nelson

Say Goodbye to the Slushpile: The Pitch Paragraph

Who is Kristin Nelson?
"Kristin has her B.A. from the University of Missouri at Columbia and is a graduate of the nationally respected University of Denver Publishing Institute. In the early nineties, she studied creative writing with National Book Award Nominee Patricia Henley at Purdue University where she earned her M.A. This makes her particularly interested in representing fiction. Before opening her own agency, she learned the ropes working for another literary agent. As for her previous work history, Kristin has been a college English teacher, a freelance writer, and a corporate trainer for business communication topics before embracing her true passion of agenting."
Bio Source:

While many different bits of information was given at the workshop, with email tidbits and a query breakdown, I'm going to focus on the pitch paragraph of the query because that was the focus of the workshop. There is also an activity and I will share with you all what I wrote. Yes, it is pretty bad but I'll show you what I tried to get done during the workshop.

The Pitch Paragraph

This is the section in the query that should catch the agents attention. It can often read like the back cover of a published novel, or inside the flap of a hardback book. The job of the pitch paragraph is to highlight the plot element that forms the catalyst for the rest of the novel.

The catalyst should be found within the first 30 pages of the novel. (Note: this doesn't mean there aren't any other areas of conlict added that lead to the climax. This is just the first one that is key to leading the main character towards that climax and/or major conflict, decision, etc.)

On average, the paragraph should be 7 to 10 sentences total.

To find the catalyst: list the events that open the novel. Then decide which plot element is the most important and sets the rest of the novel in motion. So, we had to do just that... find the catalyst.

Want to see mine? Well, there isn't really a choice because I'm making myself post what I wrote so here is my "catalyst" that I actually wasn't even using when I first attempted writing a pitch/query.

Closest thing to a friend Ephram has shows an ability from genetic mutation that he will have to report to the men in suits, government agency. The result of his telling leads ot regret, goals of seclusion and a revolution of his current role as a tattle.

Good thing that's just me trying to find the catalyst and not an actual pitch line.

Next, we had to write it down in 1 sentence.

On mine, I struggled very much so. Some words are crossed out or changed but I'll try and post it all.

A young mutant (tattle tell) has to tell the men in suits (realizes the consequences of his telling) when a friend shows signs of genetic mutation...

I didn't finish the full sentence. Sad, I know.

The hardest part of the one sentence, and the pitch paragraph, seemed to be the consequence of the catalyst. Everyone that brought up their sentences and paragraphs for examples on the CD struggled with the consequence and I know I had issues with that too. What is the consequence of the catalyst for the main character?

To shape the pitch paragraph from that one sentence consider the details that support the catalyst. This includes backstory, other inter-related plot and character insights. Also includes that pesky consequence.

Then comes the challenge. Write a pitch paragraph that has 7-10 sentences. In the time given, which was plenty of time considering the challenge and workshop, I wrote 5 sentences. Yeah... Here is my very rough version of a pitch paragraph using the catalyst from the first 30 pages of the novel, Tattle Tell.

Unlike most, Ephram Gray's genetic mutation was discovered at birth, leaving him already identified and monitored. Which would be fine if the government didn't use him as their personal tattle source for finding other mutants. It's even worse when one of his limited number of friends shows signs of mutation, forcing him to tattle. He soon discovers the truth behind the identification process, the men in suits, and he must make a decision. Either risk having to tell on another friend or accept the life of a loser and a tattle tale.

It's not the best pitch paragraph ever, but it's a start. And thanks to Kristin I now know to use the first conflict (catalyst) instead of the last one leading to the climax. She was amazing as a presenter and I've definitely learned a great amount of information from the workshop.

Now for you.
Have you ever written a query?
Going to try?


Angela M. said...

Lol, you'd think this wouldn't be such a hard task for a writer! We know our characters and our plot and our conflict, but somehow getting down to just a few words doesn't sit well with us. I have mine down pretty much, but I keep changing it over and over and over. I must have four or five versions. Thanks for sharing what you learned at the workshop!

Tabitha Bird said...

And this is why query writing takes nearly as long as writing the darn book you are trying to pitch!

Thanks for this though. It really breaks it down well. I'm going to go and try and apply this.

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Dawn, I thought I'd stop by and wish you congrats on winning a prize in the Cinders blog book tour! Check out your prize here.

Dawn Embers said...

Angela M. - The query is definitely difficult. I had fun getting the pitch down to 140 characters once and now I can't seem to make the pitch paragraph long enough. Odd.

Tabitha - thanks and good luck with your query.

Michelle - aww, thank you.