Making It Up
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Feb 02 2015
I’ve said before that writing the query letter, or at least the blurb for the query, should be the first step you take when writing the book. The hardest part of writing the query is that sometimes you don’t really have enough of a hook, or enough of a book, to write about. So if you start with your query, often you’ll define your book before you start writing it (which will save you a TON of time).
The other day I was working on my pitch to editors and I started writing the query. This was taking days. I was struggling and struggling until I realized what the book really needed or really needed to be and I just wrote that. I told my team that I was, “just making shit up.” And I kind of was, because my pitch didn’t exactly match the story the author had written. What it did though was give me exactly what I needed as an editor to go back to the author and make sure it was the story that it needed to be.
Now I didn’t make any huge changes to the story, and I didn’t ask the author to rewrite. What I did though was I found what the story was missing to give it that extra oomph. From now on, when doing edits, I think I’m going to start writing my pitch. It was a huge help.
Way back when I got my first job as an Editorial Assistant, my very wise boss told me that a good test for passing a manuscript forward for acquisition was to see if I could write back cover copy for it. If it was a struggle to come up with copy, it would probably be a sign that the book would be hard to sell. To a degree, I still use that as my litmus test today when evaluating submissions.
I actually did this exact thing not that long ago. I set up the conflict, wrote out a fun paragraph about what the main character was going to do about it… and there was absolutely no way to raise the stakes. I ended up just writing what I thought would make the best query, then ran to my coauthor with the idea. She loved it, and we got to revise our plot while we're still on chapter one, instead of waiting until we'd typed "the end" to realize how flat it fell.
This is great! I have been stumped on how to move forward with my novel. I've felt that it is really lacking, as you called it "oomph". I'm going back to the drawing board to write the query to see what I can learn on how to make improvements. Thank you!
I've started writing my synopsis first – a very hard thing to do because I really just want to jump into the new story – for that very reason. I hadn't thought about writing the query as well, but I think I might. That would really narrow down my story to the bare bones. Thanks for the tip!
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