Defining a Few Terms

Since Steve dealt with some terms in Monday’s post, we thought it appropriate to discuss some other basic ones today.

When a person undertakes to write for publication—and especially when that individual starts taking webinars, attending writers conferences, and hanging out with other writer types—he or she will encounter some words and phrases that can be confusing, at least at first. So, because I’m such a great guy, I thought I’d take a few minutes and write a few lines defining some of those terms—in particular, those that apply to the process of submitting one’s work for publication.

Query

A query is a brief but detailed, single-spaced, one-page letter or email used to interest an editor in your article or book idea. Some aspiring writers are hesitant to query because they think an editor or agent can more fairly judge an idea by seeing the entire manuscript. However, many editors and agents prefer to see a query first, for numerous reasons.

One-sheet

A one-sheet (alternately, “one-page”) is a one-sided single page adaptation of a query (including the same elements as a query but usually also dressed up by a creative layout, graphic, author photo, etc.). One-sheets also sometimes include additional features, such as an endorsement. Whereas queries are sometimes mailed or emailed to editors and agents, as well as handed to them in editorial appointments at writers conferences, one-sheets are used exclusively in writers-conference appointments.

Book Proposal

A book proposal is a long, detailed document that presents a writer’s book idea to agents and editors. The length and ingredients of a book proposal depend on the genre of the project being pitched, but they’re typically around forty pages long. Typical elements of a full book proposal are hook, summary, target-audience section, author section, comparisons, manuscript status, marketing/platform section, outline (for nonfiction), synopsis (for fiction), and sample chapters.

Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is a short, snappy verbal description of your article, book, screenplay, etc. It’s called an “elevator pitch” because it helps to imagine that you’ve just stepped onto an elevator with a big, important editor or agent (like me), and that person turns to you and asks, “What do you write?” And you have only a few floors before those elevator doors will open again, so you make your pitch quickly and sharply. Two or three sentences, bing bang boom, that are designed to prompt that editor or agent to say, as the elevator doors open, “I like it; send it to me.” I often recommend writing out an elevator pitch, memorizing it, and keeping it handy to refresh your memory as often as necessary, so you’re always ready. A good elevator pitch beats “hummina, hummina, well it’s a sort of kind of something or other” every time.

Pitch

Each of the terms above is a pitch. That’s a catch-all word for the many ways (including such recent innovations as a Twitter or Tik Tok form of elevator pitch) to put your best foot forward and impress an editor or agent with your perspicuity, perspicacity, panache, and pizzaz as a writer.

Outside of the short appointments that are available at many writers conferences (and, in the case of live conferences, informal conversations at the lunch or dinner table or coffee shop or lounge), different agents and editors have different preferences and requirements as to how they begin the conversation with writers. Some want to see a query before anything else. Others, like me, prefer to see a full proposal. Some work solely via email, others accept mailed hard-copy submissions. (Remember mail? Anyone? Anyone? Buehler?) So, of course, it’s wise to follow the guidelines such people make available on their websites in submitting your work (again, apart from writers conference processes).

Does that help? Did you learn anything new? Do you have anything to add?

8 Responses to Defining a Few Terms

  1. Corinne July 29, 2021 at 6:21 am #

    Bob I’m enjoying your posts! Thank you. I did see that Buehler in the article above is misspelled- it is Bueller (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off movie). Please delete this post if you would like after you know this if you would like. I do read and enjoy your posts all the time- I appreciate the content.

  2. Corinne July 29, 2021 at 6:22 am #

    Good morning Bob I’m enjoying your posts! Thank you. I did see that Buehler in the article above is misspelled- it is Bueller (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off movie). Please delete this post if you would like after you know this if you would like. I do read and enjoy your posts all the time- I appreciate the content!

  3. Rosemary Althoff July 29, 2021 at 6:25 am #

    Very helpful distinctions between the writer’s submissions terms.. Thank you!

  4. Linda Riggs Mayfield July 29, 2021 at 6:26 am #

    Great info, Bob. I was delighted to have the opportunity to use my well-prepared elevator speech with an agent at a conference. She said, “That’s not new–I recently read exactly the same plot.” Hmm. We soon discovered that what she had recently read was the first few chapters of MY book: she was a judge for the proposals submitted for review before the conference! 😄 (She requested and read the whole book and said she “loved” it, but wouldn’t represent me w/o a platform of +/-5K followers. She gave me a year to build one and I couldn’t do it). But the elevator pitch helped open that door and now I’m working with Thomas Umstattd on my platform. Thanks for the post!

  5. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser July 29, 2021 at 6:53 am #

    Rewritten, and it’s not right yet;
    my eyes are getting bleary.
    You won’t make money on a bet
    that I’m working on a query.
    Next up is the proposal;
    can it maybe be exchanged
    for mediated betrothal
    and a union prearranged?
    And now the windup and the pitch,
    as agent sits, inscrutable;
    just hope I’ve found one for which
    my case is irrefutable.
    Elevator pitch? Just can’t lose;
    confined space, offer you can’t refuse.

  6. Kristen Joy Wilks July 29, 2021 at 9:19 am #

    This blog makes me miss in person conferences! One of my favorite things to do is to make a one sheet and have it printed up. It is both relaxing and exciting to prepare for seeing book people and sharing our love of words!

  7. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. July 29, 2021 at 10:21 am #

    Thanks, Bob. I have become quite a fan of the pitches on Shark Tank, having learned that folks who tell their personal stories are more likely to get a shark to bite on their business.

    It’s nice to hear what you prefer, from the horse’s mouth, as they used to say.

  8. Elliott Slaughter July 29, 2021 at 11:05 am #

    There’s also a longer-form verbal pitch you might give at an online or in-person conference appointment. For example, at a conference I recently went to, we were told to use 2 minutes for the pitch and save the rest of the time for feedback. (Though personally, I think a 2 minute verbal pitch sounds really long. I don’t know how anyone is going to keep that much stuff in their head while they’re listening to you.)

    What would you recommending putting in this type of a pitch? Would it be basically the query letter, but sharper and more to the point?

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