With a previously unpublished author I would go about my pitch in much the same way. I would start with a shorter pitch letter and follow up with my query. In many cases I will probably talk up the author with editors over lunches or while on the phone. Of course I do that with my published authors, too, especially if I know it’s an editor who is already a fan.
So here’s an example of a made-up pitch letter:
Dear Betty Sue:
Happy New Year! I hope you were able to take some time to relax over the holidays. I’m thrilled to start off 2008 with one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.
I Heart Cookies by Marla Merryweather is one of the funniest books you’ll read this year. A cross between Jennifer Crusie and Rachel Gibson, I have no doubt this book will take the romance world by storm and very quickly find its way to bestseller lists.
No one ever thought Lil' Sal Simpson would amount to much; her mother didn’t and neither did her grandmother. So when she announces to all of Groundwater Falls, KS, that she’s opening the Demonic Detective Agency, everyone simply rolls their eyes—that is, until the Demons moved to town. Trey Demon was nothing if not sexy, but sexy is never going to be enough when your baggage includes a 345-year-old grandmother, a centuries-old curse, and a black cloud hanging over your head. All Trey is looking for is peace, quiet, and a dry day, but that’s never going to happen as long as he’s living next door to Lil' Sal. The gal who’s been hired to chase him, and his kind, out of town. But when Lil' Sal does what everyone in Groundwater expects and botches things up, it’s up to Trey, the extremely delicious demon, to save her.
I know you’ll love this book and can’t wait to get it to you. Please let me know if you’d prefer I send it via snail-mail or e-mail.
When putting together my query and my query pitch, my first plan of action is to get the pitch together, and for that I always go to the source by asking the author to send me a one-paragraph pitch for her book. Sometimes the pitch is dead-on and I can use it verbatim. Other times it’s my starting-off point. By having a pitch in front of me I’m able to run with it and create something that’s truly spectacular. In this case I was trying to make up an entire story in one paragraph, which is why you’re getting something less than spectacular.
The beauty of getting the pitch from the author is that often her voice will shine through, and in many cases that’s what will grab an editor’s attention first, whether she knows it or not. No matter where the pitch comes from, however, I always try to make sure it highlights the key points of the story and shows the drama, the comedy, or the suspense. It will also show the editor what makes the book stand out from others.
Just like before, once the editor requests the book I send a more detailed letter along with the full manuscript. Usually I like to have a full manuscript for unpublished fiction. However, if the hook is really strong and the author’s three chapters shine, I will be more than happy to try to sell on proposal.
With unpublished authors the second letter isn’t much more detailed than the first, especially since we need to give them a lot of story material up front. But it might go like this:
Fabulous news! I can’t wait for you to read this.
Marla Merryweather’s debut novel, I Heart Cookies, is bound to become a romance favorite the minute it hits the shelves.
A southern girl with sass, Lil' Sal has never led a charmed life, unless you consider her ability to “see” Demons charming. After failing as a waitress, rodeo clown, and even crossing guard, Lil' Sal decides that it’s finally time to use what charms she has and opens the Demonic Detective Agency. This seems like a great idea, except that no demons live in Groundwater Falls—that is, until yesterday. Trey Demon and his family—a 345-year-old grandmother, Zombie sister, and blue nephew—have just moved in next door. Finally Groundwater Falls sees some use for Lil' Sal and she has the opportunity to prove herself by chasing the Demons out of town.
I Heart Cookies is the first book in Marla’s proposed Demonic Detectives series and I can’t wait for you to read it.
Attached you will find this hilarious manuscript as well as synopses for the next two books.
So there we go. A really poor pitch for an unpublished author. Needless to say I don’t have hope for Marla’s book.
I had also mentioned yesterday that in many cases a book will sell in a matter of days or just a few weeks. And that’s true. Typically I find that a sale is made fairly quickly. However, we have many, many stories at BookEnds of books that had been nearly everywhere, and rejected nearly everywhere, when the call finally came. In fact, we have one book that had been sitting for two years when we got an offer. The key is enthusiasm. As long as we still believe in our authors, and still think there are viable places to submit to, we will continue sending that book around. And sometimes we will even consider pulling it to wait while the market changes. I have a few books now that I’m just waiting for their time to come. And when it does, trust me, I’ll pounce.