The second day of the Backspace Writer’s Conference kicked off with an amazing presentation by Kristin Nelson on writing the perfect query letter pitch. She had a way of distilling it right down to the heart of what a pitch should be. I walked out of there feeling so much better about crafting a pitch. She runs a very popular blog called Pub Rants. She mentioned that her agency receives approximately 150 queries a day. Then she explained how to get a query to stand out. She also mentioned that she skips to the pitch paragraph and then if she likes it she reads the rest of the letter.
Here are some query basics she mentioned:
- 1 page letter
- Think of it as a cover letter for your manuscript
- Introduce yourself to the agent, highlight what the project is about, and then have a closing
- Don’t be to casual in email queries
- Don’t query more than 1 agent in each email. No cc’ing the same email to 20 agents.
- If you are writing a trilogy or series, only talk about the book you are querying and mention series potential
- Personalize the query letter–address it to Dear Ms. Nelson not “To Whom it may concern”
- Don’t use cutesy font or backgrounds because it only makes it harder to read
- Don’t be unclear about the genre of your work
- Include the title of your work.
- Query intro paragraph should include: title, genre, if previously published author–highlight your credentials
- Logline should be part of pitch paragraph
- The query pitch paragraph can be 1 paragraph or 2 short paragraphs
- Bio and background paragraph should be short and sweet
A lot of people talk about how hard it is to condense 300 pages into one paragraph—You don’t. Instead look at the first 30 pages of your novel and determine what is the inciting incident. That is your plot catalyst. What has to happen before the rest of the novel can unfold? What is the plot element that drives the story?
Pitch paragraph should be short–7 sentences is good.
Once you establish your catalyst, build the rest of the pitch around it. Include details to support the catalyst:
- Back story elements
- Interrelated elements
- Character insight
You can also have a hybrid of the three types of details.
Then we did a couple exercises to help find out pitch. All in all one of my favorite events of the day.
Next, I attended the Crafting the Perfect Hook Part II panel which was a “Midtown Idol” event modeled off of American Idol.
Some points I took away from that seminar were that:
- The logline should be exciting and brief
- You do not want a reactive protagonist
- Be clear on what happens
- The 2 pages have to push the story forward
- Every word in the 2 pages counts
- There should be a sense of urgency
- Scenes need levels to do more than 1 thing
- Use words to convey dialogue
- Sparingly use “she moaned” or “she purred” because this is explaining how dialogue reads and the dialogue should speak for itself
- If you have a character and its critical to the character, then this is not back story
- But if you as an author need to tell the reader then it’s back story
- Logline=hook/climax of story
- Loglines are used in verbal pitch, agents bring to publishers
The next panel was on social media. The presenter began by advising that we set goals with use of social media by enforcing a firm time limit on it like 30 mins-1 hr a day. With millions of bloggers out there, you want to find people who care about you. Know who your target connections are–other authors, readers, PR, etc. He also stressed the importance of:
- Be a good listener
- Be well branded so someone looks at your account on Twitter and knows what you are about
- If you follow someone on twitter they know about it. Listen smart of Twitter by using keywords and setting up a listening post
- Social media presences can be on Facebook, Blog, Website homepage, Goodreads, Youtube, etc.
- Key is to drive people back to your website
- It is important to get people to give you their email so you can sent them stuff because email is #1 contact method on internet, then Facebook is #2.
- Make sure there is a button on your website that connects to Facebook
- Every 12 times mention someone else, can talk about yourself
- Never tweet over 120 characters because it can’t be retweeted
- Trying to drive readers to buy your book
- Engage people appropriately, don’t just be self promoting
The next panel I attended was about writing about sex, sin and other taboos. This panel had amazing authors whose books I cannot wait to read. 🙂
Randy Sue Meyers was the moderator and she handed out a print out of a recent blog post she made in writing sex, which btw I blogged about before the conference because it totally helped me buckle down and write my first big sex scene. Some of the things that were discussed:
- A great reference book: The Joy of Writing Sex
- Gay regencies (I never know this existed, but I picked one up) written by M.J. Pearson
- You need tension and story and not always positive conflict
- Good sex is all the same
- Bad sex is really interesting
- There is tension in the unwanted or awkward
- Sex scenes can really bring depth to book
- Don’t write put tab A in slot B
- Trick is how to make them transition/progress there–natural balance in relationship, deepen relationship, provide strife
- Don’t be gratuitous–make sure sex scene has a purpose–there is a time and place for it
- Use the sex scene well and you’ll let the reader know something about the character they never thought they’d find out
- Keep in mind, when having sex you don’t think about partner’s broad shoulders. You don’t describe then when in the middle of the act
- STAY AWAY FROM CLINICAL WORDS–they pop the reader out of the story
- Emotional depths of character, sensations, what they feel–focus should be there
- Keep away from “glisten”
- Romance as a genre #1 rule is Happily Ever After
- Most writers have limits in what they will write in a sex scene–no incest, nothing underage
- One hurdle the writer’s face when writing sex scenes is knowing mon/dad/daughter/son will read it
- Some use pseudonyms for short stories
- If the sex scene works it may not stand out because it worked
- Can use sex to illustrate something in a marriage
- Think about why writing the sex scene, what are you trying to access that can’t show in other ways, what emotions need to be brought out
- Just get it written –even if bad draft and then edit it
- Suzie Bright–How to Write a Dirty Story
The next seminar was on how to plot. There are three basic stories:
- Man vs. man
- Man vs. God
- Man vs. himself
Plot is the events that happen in your story. All the machinations that cause things to happen. It weaves the pieces of events together. Story must have complications. Conflict is needed in plot. The villain cannot be a monster. Make him strong and memorable. If both hero and villain want something it creates an opportunity for plot and can set action in motion in book. Villain brings out best in hero by challenging him emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Plot is a solution to their problem.
Sad to say I missed the next speaker because I had to go home and feed my dog and grab dinner before the evening book signing and banquet. If anyone who attended wants to post a summary of it here please let me know or if you posted it on your blog I’d love to add a link to it. Luckily, as a BAckspace member, I can watch the recording later. 🙂