At the fabulous New Jersey Romance Writers “Put Your Heart in a Book” Conference, I attended a great workshop on writing query letters. Multi-pubbed author Lisa Verge Higgins presented a well-organized, information-packed class on how to write a polished, professional query letter that will have an agent/editor begging to read your manuscript. She calls it Get Your Foot in the Door: Writing a Killer Query.
For those who are just venturing into the crazy business of getting your book published, a query letter is the one-page introduction you write to an agent and/or editor. It describes your book in two or three paragraphs and includes any biographical information relevant to your project. It’s a bear to write, mostly because of having to do such a short summary of your 90,000-word masterpiece.
So, without giving away all of Lisa’s trade secrets (come to the conference next year!), I will share with you her excellent tips on how to write that darned book summary:
Don’t tell too much. Include just the basic premise: main characters, their motivations and conflicts, and their growth. Make it emotional! Use verbs that hit you in the gut. Include the following:
1. Hook ’em with your characters. Describe each main character in 2-3 sentences. What’s interesting/different/unique about your character and his/her goal? Pick two adjectives to attach to each character. Then pick a third adjective that contrasts with the first two.
2. How do you torture your characters? What is preventing that person from getting what he/she wants? Again use 2-3 sentences. You can use juxtapositions to show conflicts, rather than having to explain at length.
3. Choose one of the following to show the action of your book:
a) Inciting incident–what gets the conflict rolling;
b) Major crisis;
c) Point of growth–a plot point where the character decides to change.
Lisa emphasized that :
1. Your pitch should be emotionally compelling with high stakes for the main characters;
2. The “voice” or tone of the pitch should match the tone of your manuscript;
3. You should not be afraid to be creative and mix things up a bit. However, keep it professional at all times.
The great thing about writing this summary is that you can use the same pitch when you meet an agent/editor face-to-face at a conference. It’s all there!
After Lisa’s workshop, I went back to my room and rewrote the pitch for my current work-in-progress. Guess what? The first editor I emailed it to requested my manuscript! Thank you, Lisa!