Scroll down for my contest pitch to Shelley Watter’stweet contest in bold below.
It’s important to be able to whittle your story down to a small number of words. I will use my current work in progress for examples here. When you start to submit your work, you will need to be able to use these techniques for editors and agents. It would be lovely to think that editors and agents would read your actual manuscript before deciding whether or not to accept your novel, but unfortunately if they did that they would be as old as Methuselah before they found enough books to represent. Therefore we writers have to come up with shorter and more concise ways of explaining our work. This post will talk about those ways to shorten your work for submission.
Synopsis — These are usually included with submissions, so that the editor/agent, if they like your work, won’t be surprised by what they find when they read the manuscript and discover that on page 294 both the hero and heroine die of the plague, even though the book is set in modern day America.
I won’t be including mine here, because I don’t want to give the story away for my WIP and spoil the ending for readers.
A Synopsis includes all the major plot points, AND you include the ending. A good way to do this might be to start with each paragraph containing two to three chapters, and each chapter having one to three sentences, depending on chapter length.
(Wait. Each of your chapters should hold information integral to the plot, right? No wasted chapters where she goes to visit aunt Tilly and they talk about daisies the whole chapter for no apparent reason, right? I didn’t think so.)
So, now that you have one to three sentences per chapter, you can add a few sentences about the hero and heroine as the start of the first paragraph. Then polish into paragraphs that are cohesive and make sure all your verbs are active.
For example we could choose to send either of these examples to an editor/agent-
Jenna is on the street when a man takes her in his van. She tries to find a way out, but she can’t. When he gets where he’s going he opens the door and brings her into a house by a lake.
Jenna is walking down the street when a man jumps from a van, thrusts a bag over her head, and shoves her inside. She searches for a means of escape, but despite her desperate fumbling, she still finds herself trapped when he finally throws the door open again. He drags her from the van and yanks her into a ragged old cabin near a lake.
They both have the vital information about the story, but one of these is more interesting. Did you pick the second one? It’s because of the action. Using action verbs–like walking instead of is, thrusts instead of takes–gives us a better visual description. Even though this attack takes a whole chapter in your novel, when we read the second option for the synopsis we can still imagine the whole affair in just a few sentences. And we still feel something for the heroine. With the first, it’s clinical and without emotion, so I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel that concerned when I read it.
This should be the idea behind your synopsis. They can be fun to write, if you keep them active and don’t let them scare you.
Query — These are also included in your submission, and are arguably the most important part of the submission. Writers should take time to be sure they are perfect before submitting, because often editors/agents don’t even make it past the query letter itself. I won’t talk about the other things that should go in a query, because this blog is about shortening your work, but if you would like more information, there are many sites which contain info on what should be included in your query letter. You can find some great info from Charlotte Dillion right here.
Branded is a 90,000 word romantic suspense set in a population 300 (fictional) town in Colorado, which will appeal to readers Final Scream, by Lisa Jackson or In Too Deep, by Cherry Adair. I only included this part to show how I use my hook to connect more info to my short query.
“Small towns have long memories.” – Kylee Jenkins
A serial killer is on the loose. Reformed bad girl Kylee Jenkins knows it must be the stranger in town. Unfortunately, he’s charming and keeps throwing her off guard with his witty comments. She follows him, determined to find proof, save lives, and redeem herself in the eyes of the town.
Hunter Shane came to Lake Park to escape a past laden with secrets and unwanted notoriety. Running to such a small, quiet town should be perfect. Then he meets a flame-haired beauty who won’t give him the time of day, and finds that the woman he’s falling for, and the town itself, seem to have some secrets of their own.
As you can see by my example, I’m still using action verbs (determined instead of wants, escape instead of get away from). I try to keep things moving, and though there is a cliffhanger ending (like when you read the back cover of a book) it still draws you into the story. In other words, you should still get an idea of what’s inside.
If I were to be writing about the book I was discussing above, I would say something like-
…Jenna Smith was abducted… or …a thug shoved her in the back of his van…
You notice these aren’t even full sentences? That’s because this may be an integral part of the story, but it’s not the whole story. Each sentence should encompass a large section of the story in a query letter, so I would include more story info within the same sentence.
For example -
Natural optimist Jenna Smith got dumped, lost her job, then a thug shoved her in the back of his van, and all in one monumentally crappy day. But things could always turn around.
Hey, that sounds like fun. I think I’ve found the heroine for my next book. lol
Anyhow, you see how much information was included in the small amount of text, and it shows a lot about her character and the tone of the book as well, all in a short time. That should be the focus of your query. Short and to the point, but still let us see it.
Pitch — This is mostly reserved for when you meet an editor/agent in person. These should be very brief and contain only what is integral to the story, and 2-3 sentences total. There are many schools of thought on how to do them, some say one sentence for the hero, one for the heroine, and the last for the conflict.
Kylee is a bad girl trying to redeem herself. Hunter is on the run from secrets. Together they must stop a serial killer before it is too late.
I didn’t think that showed my story to best advantage, so I’ve done mine the short query way.
A serial killer is on the loose. Reformed bad girl Kylee Jenkins is sure it’s the sexy new stranger, and she’s determined to find proof and redeem herself in the eyes of the town. Hunter Shane came to Lake Park to escape his secrets, only to find that the woman he’s falling for, and the town itself, seem to have some secrets of their own.
This one is very short and very to the point. Nothing is in that can be taken out, but you notice I still use action verbs and a few descriptive words to keep it lively and fitting with the tone of the story. That should be your focus in a pitch. Share as much info as possible in as few words as you can, while still getting your tone and voice across.
Elevator Pitch or Twitter Pitch This is the shortest of the pitches, meant to be used in elevators when you get that ‘So, whatcha workin’ on?’ Or for contests like I’m entering, where the pitch has to be tweet size. Here’s my pitch.
A killer is on the loose. Ex-bad girl Kylee is sure it’s the new guy. She’s got to follow him, find proof, and redeem herself for her past.
A killer has come to Lake Park & it might be sexy Hunter Shane. Ex-bad girl Kylee Jenkins must stop him to save her reputation and her life.
My story also has a humorous element, so I could use this.
A killer is on the loose. Ex-bad girl Kylee is sure it’s the hot new guy. That’s why she wants to follow him. To save the town. Honest.
Alternates might be one line long.
Ex bad girl Kylee Jenkins must stop a killer to save her reputation and her life.
Or the this meets this method.
Gilmore girls meets Psycho /or/ Virgin River by Robin Carr meets Superstition by Karen Robards
These still convey the basics, and the first two use interesting descriptive words and those all important action verbs. The focus should be main character(s) and conflict with no words to spare. Keep it as short as you can. If you can get it down to one sentence, that’s great.
Well, good luck to you on your writing and submission.
Please feel free to tell me where I can improve on my query/pitch or include some examples of your own. You never know who might see your pitch online and take interest, so comment with the pitch for your WIP or the book your shopping. If you want to know what I think, or if you’d like a critique, let me know in your comment and I’d love to offer help. (As would other authors if you ask, I’m sure.)
Oh, and I’ll be sure to post how my pitch goes with Kevan Lyon at RT Con next week.
-Author of Crushing Desire and Bound by Love available now through Breathless Press, All Romance, and Kindle.