Friday, March 9, 2012

Guest Blog: Is 'The End' Really The End?

Query, Synopsis, Pitch, Logline:  Essential Elements and Differences

The novel written, you take a deep breath and stare in disbelief at the words on your computer screen: The End. Perhaps you reward yourself with a drink or a cup of tea. You deserve it. Many wannabe writers talk about wanting to write a novel, few have the courage (or are crazy enough) to type ‘Chapter One,’ many will run out of steam by page one hundred, but you have persevered. Go ahead, enjoy the feeling of accomplishment, because what writers dread most lies ahead. Can you say query, synopsis, pitch, logline, and not shudder?

Actually, I’m here to tell you that those four writer’s tools have gotten a bad rap. So relax while we examine together what they are, and what each should contain.

1.      Query: There is plenty of information on this subject, and much conflicting advice. Let’s sort it out. First, do not overthink; use the inspiration and writing skills that make your novel shine. Since you only have a few seconds to grab the agent’s attention, open with a powerful hook. Of course, if you have a strong personal referral or have met the agent, by all means mention that right away. Follow this with four succinct paragraphs that cover: (1) why you chose this agent (e.g., she specializes in your genre); (2) the story line (only the highlights—this is not a plot summary), including the protagonist’s goal and the main obstacles to reaching it; (3) your potential market and/or comparison with successful books; and (4) your credentials, focusing on any prior publications and your motivation and qualifications for writing the book.  

2.      Synopsis: How do you distill the essence of your full-length novel into a one- or two-page synopsis? The temptation is to summarize the plot as if in a book report, which is guaranteed to make an agent’s eyes glaze over. Concentrate on the arc of the story, the main events upon which the plot turns, shedding details of settings and other things that do not entice the agent to read the manuscript. Make your synopsis a vital selling tool. In your best writing style let the reader feel with your characters and their conflicts. And you must reveal the ending, at least in broad terms.

3.      Pitch: This is the blurb you’ll find on the inside flap of a hardcover’s jacket or on a soft cover’s back cover. It must compel the reader to ask for more. Think of movie trailers that give you enough to whet your appetite but not so much as to satiate it. Therefore, the pitch should end with a strong hook that begs the story question without revealing the ending. For examples check out my pitches for The Stasi File and its sequel, Teya’s Kiss, as entered in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) in 2011 and 2012, respectively, on my website.
Logline: In addition, your promotion tool kit should include a one-sentence logline a/k/a elevator pitch or book concept. Here is mine for The Stasi File:

An American lawyer and his former lover, an Italian opera diva, are drawn into an assassination plot by a Stasi General desperate to prevent the collapse of the East German police state after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

And here is the one for Teya’s Kiss:

When a Washington trial lawyer and a budding opera diva are pressed into searching for a missing archaeologist in the Santa Fe hills, they not only encounter ruthless antiquities traffickers, but find their fates intertwined with that of a shaman’s daughter, who centuries earlier played a crucial role in the Pueblo Indian Revolt that drove the Spanish from New Mexico.

5.      Differences:

(1) Query - Its purpose is to capture an agent’s interest so that she will request additional materials like a synopsis, the opening chapters, or even the full manuscript.

(2) Synopsis - It must represent your best writing style so as to wow the agent to where she will want to read the manuscript.

(3) Pitch - You will most likely use your pitch at a writer’s conference or in a contest like the ABNA. For an oral pitch, be sure to memorize your three-hundred-word version so well that you can recite it not verbatim but in a way that feels as if you were making it up on the spot. In other words, you fake spontaneity.

(4) Logline - It should be short enough to enable you to spout it off even if awakened from a deep sleep.

You can appreciate the impossibility of covering these essential sales tools in detail in this short article. I hope you’ll find what I’ve stated here useful to get you started on your road to publication. But no matter what happens, don’t forget to congratulate yourself on the accomplishment of writing the novel you always wanted to.  

Peter Bernhardt, Author, The Stasi File: Opera and Espionage - A Deadly Combination; Quarter Finalist 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award; Amazon/Amazon Kindle: Sequel: Teya's Kiss. - - tweet @sedonawriter
Short Bio: A naturalized U.S. citizen who emigrated at age 23 from Germany, the author served as editor-in-chief of the Tulsa Law Journal. He graduated first in his law school class. His 25-year legal career included 18 years with the Department of Justice as the Civil Chief in a U.S. Attorney's Office. Writing has been a lifelong passion. Teya’s Kiss, sequel to his first novel, The Stasi File, will soon be published. 

1 comment:

Sherry Gloag said...

I'm suprised no one else has told you what a helpful blog this is. By confining your comments to the essentials, you've polarised my attention. Yes I 'knew' all this, but in pinning it down to the finer points you've given me food for thought and I'm off to see if I can sharpen up my 'tools', as I will shortly be sending another MS out househunting. :-)