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Sunday, May 23, 2010

But Why Don’t You Want Me?

Upon completion of a novel, authors spend a number of hours writing the synopsis and then the query. The query is probably more important than anything you have written to date. Why? Because this is the very first thing an editor or agent will read. It comes before any synopsis or chapter.

What is the difference between a query and a pitch? To me, very, very little. Both must convey all the information about the characters, hook, market and the basics about the author such as publishing history. An author could spend as much time reading about how to craft the perfect pitch/query letter and synopsis as they do researching their novel. When deemed as perfect as perfect can be, in the author’s eyes anyway, it is shipped off to the dream editor/agent. Or, it is memorized and ready for your ten minutes at the valued editor/agent appointment, or the chance meeting at a convention.

Unfortunately, the rejections far outweigh the contract offers and sadly, authors often don’t know why. Was it in the delivery? The storyline? The color of my dress? Font used in the query letter? I understand that agents and editors are very, very busy and cannot take time to give a detailed response to each and every submission that land on their desk or in the e-mail. I’ve heard stories of the Dear Author letter that is a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy that basically rejects the author. There have been postcards with simply “not interested at this time” and the no letter at all, just the returned query with a “no thank you” written on it.

On the bright side, the author isn’t sitting and waiting for a response, but on the other hand, they have no clue of what went wrong.

Like all authors, I have tried to prepare the perfect and concise pitch. I’ve read books, visited websites and attended workshops and have learned from each. However, I learned much more this weekend than anywhere else. On Thursday, Deb Werksman of Sourcebooks offered to take pitches at the Casablanca Author’s blog. Over 100 pitches were posted that day. And when I last looked, little over half of them received a response, though Ms. Werksman promised to respond to each and every one by midnight Sunday. I’ve learned more about pitching from not only her blog on the subject, also from the pitches themselves, and her requests and passes. Though nobody wants to hear “I am going to pass on this” it still is softer than, “Rejected”.

It takes a lot of guts to send a query off, but even more so to post it in a public forum for the world to read because that is the same forum where Ms. Werksman will either request or pass. It is hard enough to face a rejection but doubly so when the whole world can read about it. However, even when she has passed, it has not been cruel or insensitive, but very informative.

I am glad so many authors took the opportunity to post because each one of them is a lesson and pitching that every author, regardless on genre, can learn from. You can read her blog here.

Did you take the chance and post to Deb Werksman? If not, is there a reason? Did you read that blog? If so, did you find it as informative as me?


  1. Though I didn't pitch to her during blitz, I did read many of the submissions, and all of her responses. It was indeed a unique and informative opportunity to compare the pitch to the response. I was particularly amazed by how many people submitted things that were outside of her scope. If I were an editor/agent, I think that would annoy me most of all. Props to Deb for being very civil, polite, and straight forward in all of her responses.

  2. I pitched, but I used her email to do it. Like you and Erin though, I pored over every single response she made, trying to read the pitch it went along with. It really helped me to see the things that she saw and understand why she made the decisions she made. So kudos to everyone who was brave enough to face the public aspect of the pitch--it was extremely valuable to a great deal of writers out there hoping to learn how to make better pitches. And congratulations to everyone she requested a full from!

  3. I did not pitch to Deb, but I thought her blog was fascinating and more informative than many month-long classes I have taken on querying and pitching.

    Interesting how certain words (ghost, western) seemed to trigger automatic rejections. I've always believed that pitches favor plot-heavy stories. So this was an opportunity to see how other authors make their characters shine through in a pitch.

    Kudos to Deb for taking the time to slog through all 200 pitches. I especially appreciated that she gave reasons for her decisions. So often, a writer receives a form rejection letter, which teaches him nothing. So thanks, Deb, for helping writers everywhere.

  4. I didn't post a pitch myself because I'm just not anywhere near being done with the ms I would want to pitch. But the blog was fantastic and has me thinking on a much bigger scale about my career arc, hooks and the pitch itself. I read some of the pitches, but just haven't had time to go through and find the trends of what she liked and didn't like. When I'm ready, though, I think it will be an invaluable resource!

    Great post, Amy!

  5. I pitched because I felt like I didn't have anything to lose. Even though the venue was public, there were a lot of posts on there, so you might have been naked, but you were naked in a room full of other naked people. It also stuck me as an opportunity, and I jumped on it.

    I'm really glad I did, because she asked for my story.

    I think what shocks me most about the request is the story I pitched is an American-set historical. It's set during the Revolutionary War, no less. The market for those kinds of stories isn't exactly popping these days. But she asked for it, while at the same time passing on other American-set historicals as being "too hard a sell." Now I'm wondering what she saw in mine that made her ask for it, rather than passing.

  6. I read the blog post and thought it was excellent. A couple people sent me instant messages that day asking me if I thought they should post something. And my response was this...

    Best case scenario, she asks for a submission.
    Worst case scenario, she reads it and gives you feedback on why she's passing and that can give you insight in what to tweak when you query someone else.

    And I think it was awesome that she replied to everyone giving feedback in one form or another.

    Great post, Amy. :)

  7. I did missed the opportunity to post, but I did save it to my favourites and have read back through a fair few. Certainly makes fascinating reading and has helped my with my own pitch. Good luck to all who recieved requests!