A writer travels through many gateways: first story, first novel, first time someone else reads their prose, first rejection, and first writing conference. All require a step of faith, a stretching beyond the comfort zone, and all start the hands shaking and palms sweating.
I am nearing one such gateway, a Writer’s Conference. Actually it is the Portland Writer’s Workshop, meaning along with lectures covering a wide array of topics, the conference is geared toward sharing one’s “pitch” to attending agents. I will pitch my fantasy novel, The Returning. (More about that a little later). Standing up and telling my story idea to people in the industry! (Excuse me while I clench my hands together; I know I have a towel around here somewhere).
I have not attended a writer’s conference because I have not been able to afford such a venture: some cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars. I am just a poor working man, and until now, could never equate value for the dollars expended. The conference I have chosen is different for the following reasons:
- It is reasonably priced–$129 for the day + $29 per pitch and $59 to talk with Chuck Sambuchino in person–more on him at #5.
- I have a completed novel
- The conference is held in Portland, Oregon, a 3 hour drive from my doorstep.
- The conference is scheduled for 1 day–easy for a full-time worker.
- The conference includes a respected agent, Chuck Sambuchino, from Writer’s Digest. He will be accepting 1 page queries with the goal of helping writers perfect the first thing the agent or editor sees. The Query Letter is the Writer’s Selling Tool.
Planning for the conference includes perfecting my “pitch,” which is designed as a 60-90 second verbal rendering of what my novel is about–a cross between a query and a synopsis. The three things within the package sent to an Agent are normally:
- The Query (1 single-spaced page),
- The Synopsis (1 to 3 double-spaced pages normally),
- An example of your project, whether novel or non-fiction. This varies depending on agent, anywhere from the first 5 pages to the first 3 or 4 chapters. Each agent is different, so follow their instruction exactly: they are busy folks, and their requirement often reflects their heavy work load.
There are 3 main sections within the Query (ie., Writer’s Selling Tool), following the greeting.
- Introduce the characters and overall story in a compelling way to entice the person (agent, editor, etc.) to see more of the story–in a very short space, whether verbal or written.
- A little background of who you are, your published works, if any, and why you wrote the piece. Why you wrote is normally for non-fiction where you offer your background and expertise to add validity to the project.
- An offer to see more.
Simple, right? Not so fast. You only have 1 single-spaced page, and it must be the best writing of your career. (This week’s Writing Links includes several on Queries).
Brevity, Clarity and Punch are the three elements needed within the query.
- Brevity: You have one single-spaced page (only 2 or 3 paragraphs of “story information”) so the writing needs to be tight, and by tight, I mean NO extra words, and that means none of your flowery prose. Remember, it is a Sales Tool whose primary purpose is to show you are a professional and that you have an idea worth the agent or editor’s investment. Publishing is a business, and the function of running a business is to make money while filling a consumer need.
- Clarity: There is no time for rambling. Your query must be concise, to the point, and finish with an offer to see more. Within a very short space, the reader must get a sense and feel not only of the story itself, but also a hint of you, the writer.
- Punch: This may be the most difficult part. The Punch should not include the entire story line (that is offered in the Synopsis) but should include enough Aha! moments and mystery so that the agent MUST see more. No boring stuff here.
With that in mind, here is the query I am developing for the conference. I ask you to read the single page and let me know if it encompasses the “enticement” factor that would prompt you to want more. Add a comment: did it work for you? Would you ask to see more? Or comment with a query you are preparing, one that worked (or did not) in an effort to assist other Knights of Writ followers.
I have said this several times before, but it is worth repeating: Writers need other writers. Do not be shy; we are all friends here. Let us know your thoughts as we strive to improve our skills. Remember, a writer’s viewpoint is their greatest asset.
This Weeks Links: Queries
This Week’s Quote:
“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you.” ― Neil Gaiman