Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Pitch Lines That Don't Work

When going through a stack of query letters I received an inordinate number of pitch lines that I’m sure the authors thought were clever, but for some very obvious reasons they didn’t strike me the right way. So below I’m going to share some of the pitch lines and the thoughts I had when reading them. Keep in mind, these lines are just a small part of a greater letter and using one of these doesn’t necessarily mean automatic rejection.

...has all the ingredients necessary to make it a best seller and a blockbuster smash.
Does that mean you used the word “code” in the title and included an erotic love scene? I can bake a cake with all the ingredients necessary to make it delicious, but if I don’t put them together correctly it isn’t going to taste good.

A novel based on a true story
I honestly believe that every novel has a bit of truth in it. I would rather not hear that it was based on a true story, but hope instead that you’ve taken an experience, an idea, or a story and created something wonderfully fictional about it.

On a dare, I wrote a romance novel for some friends (not my usual cup of tea) . . .
Wow! On a dare I represent authors even though reading books isn’t my usual cup of tea. Seriously, I don’t have time to work with people who are only writing things on a dare, and don’t have the respect for their work (or mine) that’s required to make it in this business.

As for my novel, I won’t go into story details . . .
So what exactly are you going to talk to me about?

the book is a really rough edit so far. when i land the money deal i can move forward to make it complete
Again, please at least give me the courtesy of taking my job seriously.

I am interested in writing a fiction novel and I wanted to speak to you about the idea
I am interested in selling your novel only when you have a proposal.

I think what really gets to me about most of these lines is the casual manner in which they are presented and their lack of sincerity. This is a business, one I work very very hard at, and if you can’t respect that and respect the work that all authors do to get published, then don’t waste my time.



BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

In looking over my post today I realized I didn't even comment on "fiction novel" which, as we all know, just drives agents, editors, and authors crazy. All novels are fiction folks.


Anonymous said...

Some people are embarrassed by what they perceive as their "downmarket" taste. So the romance writer may actually *aspire* to writing literary.

Kimber Li said...

I think a lot of those queries are simply due to a lack of education in the business. If these writers are serious, they'll learn, they'll feel stupid about these queries, and then they'll decide to either give up or get educated. If their stories really are good at the heart, I hope they get educated. I know I certainly am still learning!

Liz Wolfe said...

This kind of stuff just makes me cringe. It smacks of arrogance and entitlement. Would these writers be that unprofessional if they were communicating with someone they work with in their current career?
If they want to be considered professional, they need to treat others in the industry as a professional. I'm sure some of this can be attributed to ignorance, but I find it hard to accept ignorance as an excuse for this kind of thing. Especially today, with the information so readily available.
OK, I'll get off my soap box now.

elysabeth said...

Kimber Ann,

I have to agree. There are so many great sources (not just flyby the seat of your pants things either) available to anyone on the internet. You don't even have to have a deep knowledge of how to search for things - just google or whatever search web you use - query letters and there are plenty of resources and many with sample query letters that actually work.

Want to know what agents accept for submissions, - just type up agent query (great online source).

Want to know how to write a synopsis - again, google it and you have many sources available.

(I have bookmarked several of these sites and passed them on to my friends who are in various stages of writing, submitting, querying - and everyone gets something from the information)

And let's not forget wonderful publishers' blogs and agents' blogs and websites, as well as attending conferences, workshops and any number of writing related freebies offered by many different venues (we have local mini workshops at the library by various speakers/authors/people in the business) - and of course the writing groups that so helpful.

Again, it is a matter of just honing the craft and profession of writing -

(PS - Jessica, here's one from a guy in our local group - he put on his query letter that he was sending the agent the first 50 pages (or 3 chapters - don't remember) of his third draft for her -... - yikes - you never tell an agent/editor/publisher that your manuscript is not polished - just thought you'd get a kick out of that one)

Anonymous said...

My queries stink, even though I've never used any of those, um, 'techniques'. I wish there was a way to teach writers how to capture their voice in the query -- I'm so awful at it...I have a friend who writes my hooks for me -- and her queries receive a huge request rate, whereas mine receive almost no requests...for the same book, of course :)

Hoyt Peterson said...


I use to have the same problem when writing a query letter. I found this technique, for lack of a better word, that I use.

I sit down at my computer, my fingers posed on the key board. All lights are off.

I close my eyes and type the first thing that comes to my mind for 5 mintues. Thus, the hook sentence is born. From there, it's just a matter of outlining the important parts.

I think you should keep trying. Although your friend my write it better now, there is no substitute for the author's creation.

Just my thoughts.


Anonymous said...

I once got a query letter with the gem, "My book has an odd, and likely not-too-popular plot...I am aware of this."

Wow, an unpopular book from an unknown writer? Where do I sign?! I can see the ad copy now: "You're going to hate this book--utterly put-downable!"

Anonymous said...


I had a similar experience - I had a friend help me write a query and instantly got requests, but when she went to conferences, I helped write her pitches and she got requests. Sometimes you just need an outside eye to find the hook.

Look at how your friend wrote your query and compare it to the one you wrote. What did she do differently? With my first query, I wrote one, had my friend read it and write her own based on mine, then looked at them both and rewrote for the final letter. Now I write them on my own, but still have a writing friend look them over first. Another set of eyes can't hurt!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the laugh! A career based on a dare???

The Dark Scribe said...

Wow...that's astounding. They should have saved their postage money and bought a clue :P

Lexi said...

It still amazes me people can be that clueless!

Tess said...

I'm with Lainey - my own QL is looking pretty good at this point.

In a contest I'm judging (but on which I'm not allowed to comment, only give a score) I received an entry with a synopsis in which the writer doesn't give the ending. That's right - the synopsis ends with a cliff-hanger. I really, really wish I could contact this person and tell that that under no circumstance should they EVER send this kind of synopsis to an agent/editor!!

Alexis Grant said...

Y'all forgot the bright side -- these lines make the rest of us look even better!

Susan B James said...

Thank you! That was a wonderful post. We had a writer come to her our critique once with a story about a gypsy. The stry was so very bad that I truly thought English was her second language. She was mortally offended. In return for the laugh you gave me, I offer you another one. My fellow blogger at Pen and Ink Lupe Fernandez's take on a Customer Support Service for writers: http://thepenandinkblog.blogspot.com/2010/05/customer-support.html

Lee said...


I agree that the way romance is perceived is not really flattering.

Which makes the writer pitching in such a manner even more suspect to me. Why write about something you're embarrassed about? Is it just for the money?

Ben Pounds said...

Is it okay to propose a nonfiction book to an agent without having written the whole thing first? The book in question here would be a travel book, but I've not started my journey yet. I have the plans ready though and I've been to some of the places before.