Saturday, July 3, 2010

Hooks with no worms -- hopefully

No, we aren't going fishing. If we were, there would be worms and minnows and the appropriate lures for lake fishing. Unlike our resident monkey who likes to try to spear fish and throws nets at them, I enjoy sitting on the bank of the lake with a cold drink at hand as I wait for the fishies to come see what's on my hook.

But that's not the kind of hook I'm talking about this morning. No, I'm talking about that elusive and oh-so-important hook that we need in our query letters and even in our face-to-face pitches with agents. Sarah in her post Wednesday how we need to be prepared to pitch to an agent or editor should we have the chance at a con or workshop. So, here's your chance to practice.

Post in the comment section the following: a one sentence description of your novel or story and then a one paragraph description. For the latter, think about the TV guide descriptions you see for your favorite show. Be sure to include the title and genre as well. I'll be checking back during the day and will post comments and suggestions -- as will other members of the MGC I'm sure.

So the floor is open. Don't be shy. Most of all, have fun!

46 comments:

C Kelsey said...

It's like Laurell K Hamilton's early books but without the sparkly vampires and *with* men who act like men.

My novel is about werelions (because wolves have been done to death)and features a kickass guy who genuinely cares for the two women in his pride, a girl at the low end of the totem pole who is a 3 dimensional character in her own right, and plenty of snark and fun offset by periods of true horror.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, good start. But most folks don't think of LKH as having "sparkly" vamps. Now, try again, but use the "voice" of your novel in the paragraph and give an idea of what the plot happens to be. Again, think about the plot synopses you can find in the TV Guide. For an example of what I'm talking about, check out Nathan Bransford's post where he gives his 1 line, 1 paragraph and 2 paragraph hook/pitches. You can find them here .

warpcordova said...

What happens when an ordinary boy stumbles into an extraordinary world?

Christian Cole is new to rural Virginia and he already despises it. But after an accident in the fabled Darkwood, Christian's eyes are opened to the mythological elements of good which still live in our world. Will he help them in their struggle to protect humanity against the ancient Wanderers, demons from another dimension?


This one was similar to a query which got me a few responses back from the Knight Agency as well as the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Unfortunately, CC still needs some work... but the query letter did get me a positive reply.

Jonathan D. Beer said...

One sentence (this is really hard!):

The Steel Sons must come to turns with the destruction of their home, and met out vengence on the army that destroyed it.

And this is the Purpose paragraph I included in my submission to Black Library, so I'll be interested in seeing what you say. Note - the names included are already established in the rest of the synopsis, so I'm not just dropping stuff into a single paragraph.

"The chief purpose [of my novel] is to deliver a fast-paced and gripping action story that follows the Steel Sons through their most trying time. The reader is witness to a battle of wills on the psychic as well as physical realms, the complex relationships that create unity and division within the Imperium, and events that test all involved to the very limit of what even Astartes can endure. While the story has a rather dark ending, it is a celebration of the fortitude of Space Marines, and the truly heroic feats they can achieve. Set within a war which threatens to destroy one of the Imperium’s most vital forge worlds, the reader will enjoy some exhilarating action scenes that show the Space Marines’ martial abilities in all their glory."

Maybe a bit too long for an elevator pitch, but it's what I had to hand.

matapam said...

Sentence:
The Black Goats is a 120,000 word fantasy about a battle for supremacy among eight ancient wizards returned to a world that barely remembers the rule of the Tyrant Wizards.

Paragraph:
To the best of their knowledge, they were the last surviving magic users. They'd sheltered in the valley of the Old Gods, the descendants of the few survivors of the last magical wars. But time moves on, and the world and the magicians are about to find each other. The Black Goats had guarded the sheep flocks for as long as the witches had lived in the valley. Now, they take advantage of their sheep herding warder's distraction to escape the magical bonds they've existed under for so long. Seven men, powerful sociopaths, fleeing their captor and seeking a stronghold from which to return to their tyrannical ways. The Sheep Man, not much less tyrannical himself, frees himself of his own magical restraints and goes in search of his old enemies. It ends in a magical battle atop an erupting volcano, where an apprentice wizard must choose between old loyalties and new. The Wine of the Gods Series is a cross-dimensional struggle between a high tech world, a medieval world with magic and a third with both; it starts on the medieval world with the Fantasy 120,000 word stand alone, The Black Goats.

Amanda Green said...

Jason, I can see why you had interest in CC based on these. You have given enough to tantalize and the voice is there. Getting interest from both of the agencies you mentioned is great.

Now for specifics, from your single sentence, I assume this is fantasy, possibly middle school or YA for your potential audience. If this isn't right, you might want to find another word besides "boy". But that's just my impression; see what others have to say as well.

Your paragraph description confirms, imo, that this is fantasy. I still don't know if we're talking UF or standard fantasy with elves and dwarves, etc. From this description, it could be YA or adult, which will open more doors for you, imo.

All in all, very good and I'd like to see more.

T.M. Lunsford said...

A Steady Wish:
A young woman gave up the love of her life to follow her dream of becoming a successful writer, but now that she’s achieved it, she has to find her way back to her forever guy before it’s too late.

Maggie McGregor moved to London to go to school and become a successful novelist. Now that her first book is a big hit on both sides of the pond, she moves back home to write her way back into the heart of Will Buchanan, the man she left behind to pursue her dreams. But has too much passed between them for things to ever get back to the way they were? Maggie refuses to give up on her dream of a life with her forever guy. She can only hope that he hasn’t given up on her.

C Kelsey said...

I'll have to try again later, Amanda. Too tired right now and brain power is focused on other things right now. :)

Amanda Green said...

Jonathan, I'm going to point you to the same post by Nathan Bransford I did C Kelsey above. Not so much for your single sentence, but more for your paragraph. Remember, the idea of the paragraph pitch or hook is to get the story across in only a few sentences. You may be in an elevator or standing at the coffee kiosk and only have a couple of seconds to get it out. The editor or agent is going to want to hear about the story, not -- imo -- what the reader is going to experience in the story. I guess what I'm saying is, picture yourself standing there, waiting for the elevator. What would you say about your story in 30 words or less to interest that agent into seeing more?

As for specifics -- and remember, this is my opinion only. Others may feel totally different and that's okay -- you one sentence hook is good. The only problem I really have with it is I can't pin down what genre it is or when/where it takes place.

Your paragraph is fine as part of your query -- after you give the basic plot -- or for inclusion with your synopsis. For an in-person pitch, especially as the first paragraph to introduce your story to an editor or agent, you might want to get more to the heart of the story. Again, remember, this is my opinion only. See what others think and then decide what is best for you and your story.

Amanda Green said...

Matapam, you single sentence is great as part of a query letter. It tells me exactly what the genre is, the length and basic premise. Now, your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to alter it into a one sentence pitch or hook that you give to the editor standing at the elevator waiting to go down to the first of the morning panels. Yes, I'm evil. But you knew that already.

Your paragraph tells me all I need to know about the novel and throws out the temptation of more to come. This is a very good example of what you see a lot of editors and agents saying they want to see in query letters. Of course, I'm not going to let you off that easily. How would you say all this standing at the elevator at the end of the day when that same editor from the morning sees you and asks to hear a bit more?

Amanda Green said...

Taylor, you do understand I expect you to do pitches for something else in the crit group later this month, right? ;-p (For purposes of full disclosure, Taylor and I are in the same critique group.)

Your first sentence tells me genre, audience and gives a feel for what the book is going to be about. However, it's a bit long. Can you condense it down a bit? (for ex: After giving up the love of her life to follow her dream of becoming a writer, can X find a way to win him back before it's too late?) Now, I will give a caveat here. There are some agents who will almost automatically turn down a query if it opens with a question like this. So you might want to frame it as a statement.

Your paragraph is good. You might throw in a complication that stands between Maggie and Will, something besides her having left him to follow her dream. Remember, this is your chance, in 30 seconds or less, to impress the agent or editor with your story.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, I know. You got up too early. Now I bet you're either playing video games -- which I plan to do shortly -- or watching World Cup. Ping me off-list if you have any questions about what I said.

warpcordova said...

Amanda: Yes, it's a YA story. Should I have mentioned that in the follow up paragraph?

matapam said...

Amanda, the long stuff is easy. It's those short sentences that baffle me.

The second book of the series, Explorers, features the first encounter of my magical people with cross-dimensional explorers. As both sides learn about the other, the encounter starts spiraling downward toward an armed confrontation. The Earth doesn't believe in magic, and fears the only other dimensionally traveling civilization, the Empire of the One. They leap to the conclusion that the "magic tricks" are Oner technology, disguised to awe the Natives, and troops mass for the confrontation. The past guilt, and conscience of the Earth's project manager, with some fast thinking and blackmail postpone the confrontation.

This leads directly into the third book, Spies, with both Earth and the One World infiltrating the magic society, while the magicians run about trying to pit them against each other and somehow get them to both withdraw. None of them expected the intervention of the randy teenage dragon girls . . .

matapam said...

The Black Goats is a 120,000 word fantasy about a battle for supremacy among eight ancient wizards returned to a world that barely remembers the rule of the Tyrant Wizards, focusing on an apprentice wizard, once trapped with his old, evil master but now trying to reach for the light.

I don't know if that's better, or merely longer. And should I squeeze in mention that this is a bit raunchy and definitely intended for a mature audience?

Amanda Green said...

Jason, for an elevator pitch, probably mention it after giving the down and dirty, one paragraph pitch. That's when you can give your target market, length of book etc. As for a query letter, as long as you mention genre, length and target audience somewhere, you're okay, imo. The key is that you do mention it somewhere.

Amanda Green said...

Pam, for your sentence, if it's that elevator pitch, I'd drop the word length, etc., and just give the plot line. Most definitely mention somewhere in there, especially in your paragraph pitch, that this is a fun and raunchy tale. In fact, if you can work that into the "voice" of the paragraph, all the better.

Amanda Green said...

Everyone, I probably should have mentioned this in the original post, but, imo, the one sentence and one paragraph pitch in your query letter very well may read differently than what you will SAY in an in-person pitch. Letters do tend to be a bit more formal than conversations. So, for those I've suggested going back and looking at your sentences and paragraphs for that in-person aspect, think about how you would describe the book if you were talking about it. If it helps, think about how you describe a book you've read by one of your favorite authors. Then try to do the same sort of thing with your work.

Hope this helps -- Amanda

C Kelsey said...

Amanda,

Stop spying on me. I mean it! I was playing Final Fantasy 13 and then ended up watching Argentina lose to Germany, all in an attempt to get the current story to gel. The story has now gelled, so I'll sit outside and write until the Paraguay v Spain at 1400. :) What game are you playing? Err, I suppose I'll take that question off list. Oh, and yes, I got up *way* too darned early today.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, good news that the story is gelling. I understand completely. As for what game I'll be playing, haven't decided yet. Just something with lots of bombs and big explosions -- yep, it's one of those days. All I can say is, "hurray for destructible environments!"

matapam said...

Oh, what I'd say out loud?

"Uh, er, well, umm, it's uh, a Fantasy. Sort of. Except I explain the magic as genetic engineering and there's multiple Earths with travel across dimensions and . . . wait, I had this, uh, thing all memorized, uh . . . "

Amanda Green said...

Matapam, I have one word for you -- THPPPPP! You know better than that and you'd do better than that. Don't make me tell Sarah she needs to apply her boots with the very pointy toes [VBEG]

Jonathan D. Beer said...

Amanda, I get what you are saying, and I agree - the paragraph I popped up probably wouldn't work in a face-to-face situation, which is my foolishness for posting it I suppose! :) I am giving this some serious thought - and reading everyone elses! - since I suspect this is a skill that I will definitely need to master.

As for finding it hard to pin down the genre, that's pretty fair - that sentence could apply to half-a-dozen different genre-stories. The problem is that this book is actually a pitch to a franchise, which thus has all its attendant pre-existing knowledge. Still, this has been an eye-opener - many thanks! :)

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

C Kelsey, some of Laurell K Hamilton's opening lines were great.

Kate said...

Hm... one liner elevator pitches.

Impaler is easy: Dracula - the 15th century prince, not Stoker's vampire - survives and goes to seek revenge on his old enemy the Ottoman Sultan.

The one that's been nagging me the last few weeks and is currently sulking: My Fair Lady meets steampunk. (If necessary, I can add that steampunk may not be the winner)

Current WIP: A debauched angel and his succubus girlfriend, a party-animal werewolf, and a sarcastic vampire - someone screwed up the 'save the world' assignment.

Amanda Green said...

Jonathan, there is never any foolishness in posting here -- unless it's foolishness done by me. But you are right. The paragraph you posted is good for a paper or email submission, but not necessarily for a face-to-face one.

I also understand that this pertains to a submission to a franchise and you expect a modicum of pre-existing knowledge with them. However, let me toss out a possibility to you. You're standing at the elevator waiting to go back up to your room for the night when the editor asks you for more information about the one-line pitch you'd given that morning. As you start pitching it, another editor, or an agent, happens up and listens in. By adding just a word or two to your description, you have expanded the pitch to include them, letting them know you know your genre and market you're pitching to. They might not be able to work with you on this very specific piece, but they will remember you as someone who not only could do a good pitch, but who was knowledgeable about who they were pitching to -- if that makes any sense.

Amanda Green said...

Kate, very good -- especially the last one. Anyone hearing that and NOT wanting to know more has been exposed to one too many sparkly vampires and emo werewolves for their own good.

Now, because I am an evil witch, where are you one paragraph pitches? Hmmmmm?

C Kelsey said...

Angel is a normal, 23 year old, grad with a degree in statistics from MIT. That is until her celebratory graduation vacation with her best friend, Rae in Colorado, where a drunk driver T-Bones the passenger side of Rae's car, where Angel is riding passenger. Near death, the fiance of Rae's big sister "saves" Angel. Angel is catapulted into the crazy world of government conspiracies, were-animals, and a werespider named Joe (Buckley). :)

Kate said...

Chris K,

This is a combination of too much info and the wrong info. Without knowing anything about the piece and going entirely off what you've got there, I'd put it more like this:

MIT statistics grads don't usually believe in conspiracy theories, and Angel was no exception - until a close encounter with a drunk driver throws her head-first into a world of were-animals, and secret government projects that make the conspiracy theorists look like pikers.

(The werespider named Joe Buckley gets mentioned only if this is headed to Baen)

Kate said...

Amanda,

Do you want me to mention your skeletons in the closet?

Thought not...

Anywho... for the WIP, the paragraph version:

Jim's trying to stop someone from kicking off Armageddon ahead of schedule - in a town that's so small it's only on the map because there's nothing else to put there. First problem: he's a vampire. Second problem: his best buddy is a werewolf who loves to party. Third problem: their allies are a debauched angel and his succubus girlfriend. The "Saving the World" department really needs to get their assignments in order - if the world lasts long enough.

C Kelsey said...

Yes, Amanda. You're right. Also, damn did my punctuation suck in that post. :( :P

Stephen Simmons said...

The Galileo Syndrome is the first half of a two-part story, a near-future science fiction look at a boy born with the ability to perceive parallel universes, and the sister who devotes her life to caring for him.

Ricky may have been born with an eidetic memory and the ability to see multiple universes - even cross over into them, although luckily we didn't figure that out until after we learned to walk - but he was also born without much in the way of common sense. That's where I come in. I'm his little sister Peaches (trust me, don't ask, you don't want to know where the name came from), and I'm his little sister. It's my job to take care of him. And he needs taking care of. Becasue he may have invented artifical gravity before he turned sixteen, but he doesn't understand that there really are bad people in the world.

Amanda Green said...

Kate, you can mention my skeletons in the closet only if you don't mind me talking about your salvation. I'm really jonesing to learn more [VBEG].

As for your paragraph, it's really good. The only thing missing -- imo, so take it for what's it's worth -- is who or what they're saving the world from.

Amanda Green said...

Stephen, your paragraph is very good. It grabbed my attention and I want to know more.

There are a couple of very minor nits to look at. The first is you've already told us Peaches is the younger sister. Then you have her repeat it in the same sentence. (I'm his little sister Peaches (trust me, don't ask, you don't want to know where the name came from), and I'm his little sister.)

The second nit is you have Peaches say there are bad people in the world. The implication is they might be after Ricky, either to hurt him or exploit him. But the danger isn't clear. You might consider adding something about how or why she's protecting him, whether they are on the run, etc.

Again, these are my impressions only. You know your work best and can best determine what is needed to help "sell" your story in your pitch.

Stephen Simmons said...

Oops ... I always do things like that when I edit quickly and forget to look back over the results. Maybe more like this?

Ricky may have been born with an eidetic memory and the ability to see multiple universes - even cross over into them, although luckily we didn't figure that out until after we learned to walk - but he was also born without much in the way of common sense. That's where I come in. I'm his little sister Peaches (trust me, don't ask, you don't want to know where the name came from), and it's my job to take care of him. Believe me, he needs taking care of. Becasue he may have invented artifical gravity before he turned sixteen, but he doesn't understand the lesson Galileo learned: when you come up with new ideas that threaten to change the world, the world sometimes resists what you're doing. Forcefully.

Amanda Green said...

Stephen, better in that you gave the threat, but I think you went a bit too far. Maybe something in-between. For ex: He may have invented artificial gravity before he turned sixteen. But he doesn't understand that there really are bad people in the world and some of them will stop at nothing to get their hands on my brother.

It's rough, but I think you'll see where I'm going with it.

Anonymous said...

Drat! I have missed the day (it's now Sunday...late Saturday night actually). Did get my taxes done though. I'll have to read everyone's in the morning.

Linda

Synova said...

The game Harvest Moon meets the Oklahoma Land Rush.

For a millenia humans dreamed of the stars. Now only the most wealthy can dream of the land.

Iemar was content to spend her life working the land for someone else but then her father died a hero and her mother and brother insisted that every penny of his death benefits and hero's award and every bit of their savings be given into her hands to purchase the chance to become a Gentleman Farmer. Winning the land race and staking her claim is only the first step. She still needs to hold it against those who will do anything to see her fail.

Synova said...

A galactic empire is brought down by a little girl.

People fear a telepath, but what does a telepath fear?

The Empire doesn't allow free telepaths so when Zhenu, who was both a telepath and one of their best agents quit they couldn't let her go. She's been hiding longer than Raun, the agent presently seeking her has been alive. He finds her only because she has to chose between escape and saving a young girl's life. Ava, a clone of the Empress, has been created an "extra", a back-up, a safety measure in case of catastrophe. Now deemed too dangerous to risk falling into the wrong hands, her death is ordered. Zhenu and Raun have to work together to keep her alive and in the end, the wrong hands she falls into are her own.

Synova said...

It all leaves out far more than it leaves in, of course.

Is this sort of teaser the right idea?

A plot summary has to have the plot and how it all works out and what the resolution of it all is. It's got to give away the end. I've only hinted that an end exists and left out anything like what the plot or sub-plots will be.

My first pitch totally leaves out the romance and totally leaves out the complication of why certain powerful parties want her *particular* land claim. The second totally leaves out that Raun can't be "heard" by a telepath and that Ava can use ancient technology and control any and all FTL travel and FTL communications.

(Neither are actually written, so it doesn't really matter... but as an exercise it's interesting and for future reference, good to know.)

Brendan said...

Two teenagers, one Koori and one European, are surprised when spirits talk to them, and even more suprised when they learn they must find out who or what is breaking the fragile peace between the land's native Guardians and the Fey who came with the white invaders.


Billi-billeri has been learning what he needs to know before he can join the tribe as a man and is on his way home; back to being Jack, living in suburban Melbourne. Emily has just discovered that the pixie her grandma used to tell her stories about is real. They find the Dreamtime is calling them both. The fragile peace that exists between the land's ancient guardians and the fey who came with the waves of migrants from all over the globe is shattering and the wise know that might and power aren't always the best solution. Sometimes small spirits hold the key and young minds can see what the old can not.

Amanda Green said...

Linda, will you do my taxes?

Seriously, go ahead and post something. I'll keep this thread going as long as folks are interested. -- Amanda

Amanda Green said...

Synova, I'd like to see it written. It sounds fun and interesting.

To answer your questions, a written plot summary has to do basically what you said. Hinting at the end is okay in the one paragraph summary, as long as the resolution isn't too obscure. The full details come in the synopsis.

However, in the 30 second elevator pitch, you don't have to go into that much detail. Think of it as a teaser or trailer for a movie. You hit the high points and main themes for the editor or agent, but you don't give away everything. It is your hook, used solely to reel the poor unsuspecting editor in and have him asking for more.

And that, to me, is what makes this kind of pitch so much more difficult than that in your query letter. Not only to you have a very limited time to get the gist and feel of your story across, but you have to fight your nerves and the potential tendency -- at least I do -- of either not saying anything at all or saying too much and making a fool out of yourself. That's why it's good to practice things like this before attending cons and workshops. At least I think it is. [shrug]

Brendan said...

I had another one-liner. A bit pithier but doesn't have the YA feel.

Australia is a land of an ancient people with their own spirits and guardians, but with the convicts and settlers that arrived 200 years ago other invaders also came.

Amanda Green said...

Brendan, I love your one sentence "tease". It tells me this is going to be more than the usual fantasy tale, at least usual for here in the States. I'm intrigued by the potential twists of having one of the main characters be Koori and anticipate at least some of the Koori legends and folk tales to be incorporated into the novel. As for market, I can see this being either YA or adult, at least from this one sentence.

As for your paragraph, again, it makes me want to know more. Most authors don't use the colonization of a land by humans to mean the fey would come with them. Some, like Laurell K. Hamilton, have the fey immigrating out of necessity and to escape laws meant to limit their powers and influence. So you have me wondering why the fey came with the humans and if the humans, on a whole, know about the fey.

As you can see, you have me asking questions which is, imo, good. It's going to have the editor me wanting more which means asking for pages.

Amanda Green said...

Brendan, wow, talk about two totally different feels. Your second sentence is much darker and, yes, it does do away with the YA feel. My only issue with it -- and it's a minor issue -- is that we don't know what kind of invaders you mean. So you might want to consider how to make that a bit clearer. By doing so, you also give the editor or agent a clue as to what your genre happens to be.