Tag s | Query Letters

The Wild Pitch

It is the third month of the Major League baseball season so I thought it would be fun to explore the concept of having a quality pitch. As with baseball, the author needs to pitch their ideas in an effective manner. But it doesn’t always work out that way.

Every once in a while a baseball pitcher uncorks a horrific throw that sails past the batter and everyone wonders what happened. (Click here for a quick 24 second clip as an example.) In baseball terms this is classified as a wild pitch.

Unfortunately many writers unleash a wild pitch at an agent or an editor. We can only wonder what the writer was thinking. What follows are twelve pitches that have been tossed my way.

“Save for the Bible, the book you’re holding in your other hand is the most important work you’ll ever read! Let me know what you think.”

“I found the information about you encouraging and uplifting, as opposed to some others that seem a little too much like angry puppets of the establishment.”

“Thrilled by the idea of making a bomb, they fill a beer bottle and then hurl the “Molotov cocktail” at the shanty…It erupts in a mushroom cloud of flame. Giggling at first, the horrified pair gasps at the sight of a human torch in a window.”  [[one paragraph later in the cover letter it claims…]] “It’s laugh-out-loud funny.

“I sincerely doubt you will engage in any business with me, just because that’s how sick and sordid the industry has become…I mean, I produced the piece of work, you didn’t. Now, I challenge you to do your job.”

“If Dan Brown wrote my religious thriller [book one title], it would be more thrilling than the da Vinci Code. And if Michael Crichton wrote my apocalyptic [book two title], it would be a more exciting story than Prey. Finally, if Clive Cussler wrote my crypto-history [book three title], it would have more depth, realism and complexity than Atlantis Found.

Subject line of the email said: “DON’T READ THIS.”
(So I didn’t.)

“WARNING, this query, in all likelihood, will not meet your all submission requirements because your submission requirements probably don’t meet the needs of this novel.”

“I came across your listing on the internet. You would not have been my first choice…”

“All my literary efforts…are stirring works caught in the vortex of disintegrating modernity. Each work is a mixed genre, essentially fiction-fantasy-history, with an environmental twist, and many young folks.”

“This novel is…an enjoyable romp with outrageous characters and themes that just about anyone can identify with; including sinister ‘friends,’ insane parents, existential nausea, jealousy, and sexual frustration.”

My book is “an egregious 866,000 words…Despite its bulk, I have read it three times over…and still love it….Action, adventure, magic, romance, sex, theology, and horrible, ugly violence are all to be found within.”
(To the writer’s credit, they admitted its length was a tad over the normal limit.)

On December 22nd our office received a query letter that gave us until January 5th to make a decision or they were going to self-publish. Might want to give that “ultimatum” some thought?

A good pitch, on the other hand, is delivered with focus and precision. Think about it for a minute. A baseball pitcher starts by learning how to grip the ball. Then comes the best way to actually throw the ball. Some adjust their arm angle to achieve the optimal way to maintain the right speed for a particular pitch.

Don Sutton, a great pitcher in his day, was not known for his overpowering arm but he learned that the genius of his delivery came from his legs and core body strength. Each pitcher finds his own comfort zone and type of pitch that works for them. Some are all about speed (Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, Sandy Koufax could all throw over 100 mph), others are all about curveballs or change ups. And some are about placement in, or out, of the strike zone. Or like Mariano Rivera who had a wicked cutter.

Much like a major league pitcher you must work on your delivery. Find the best way to pitch your idea in such a way that it is easy to catch. Focus. Precision. Intent. And a pitch that is really strong.

Let’s carry the concept one step further. Each pitcher is different, just like each writer is different. For every Randy Johnson, strikeout artist, there is a Wilbur Wood, whose knuckleball pitch was almost impossible to hit squarely. But each pitcher uses the same fundamentals of grip, arm speed, leg strength, and follow through.

Watch this incredible one inning pitching performance by Randy Johnson in 2001:

Play Ball!

 

[This is an updated version of a post that ran in March 2012.]

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A Roundup of Some Queries

Periodically we try to show you some of the more unusual things we receive, unsolicited, by our agency. These are by no means all of them (not exhaustive…just exhausting). Just a few to help those who read this blog avoid the same mistakes. Disclaimer: We do not suggest that any of …

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Do You Have Perfect Pitch?

Thanks so much for all the ideas for my mini-conferences. I’ll put those together soon.

Speaking of conferences, while I was at a writer’s retreat awhile back, I was struck, as I always am when in the company of writers, by the power of the right word used in the right way. On the first day of the conference, I had group meetings with the writers. This is where a group of writers come in, sit at a table together, and each takes a turn pitching his/her book to me to see if I would be interested in representing the author. I had six groups, each lasting a half hour, made up of anywhere from 5-7 people each. So folks had a total of 3-5 minutes to engage me in their project.

It’s the writer’s conference version of speed dating!

The cool thing is, a good number of those who came had such a strong understanding of their project and of the market that they were able to hook me in the first few words. Now that’s doing your homework! For example, one woman told me right off the bat her book was romantic suspense, what the main story line was (in a sentence), and what the conflict and spiritual takeaway were. That took about 45 seconds of her 4 minutes, so from there I asked questions about the story and focus and she was able to relax and just talk. I ended up asking her to send me the proposal. Don’t know if we’ll pursue it–the writing is what tips the scales, of course. But I was impressed with her well chosen descriptions. And if I’m considering two manuscripts and all things are basically equal, I’ll always go with an author who is, first and foremost, teachable, and then able to communicate the heart and soul of her story quickly and effectively.

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The Unhelpful Rejection Letter

Have you ever received an unhelpful rejection letter that says, “Sorry, but this just isn’t a fit for us.”? I have. And I’ve also written more of these rejections than I’d like to admit. In fact, after I write this post, I may just have to send out twenty more.

Some authors write back to say, “Can’t you tell me what I can do better? What suggestions do you have?” I’m sure I frustrate writers when I tell them I can’t comment further. As a published author in my own right, I understand why writers want feedback. So now let me tell you why I don’t feel it’s in your best interest for me to offer feedback when the answer is a firm no.

Lead Me On

When you were in high school, you kept from encouraging people you didn’t want to date, right? Sometimes those people were nice and would make a great match for someone else. Just not you. You hated the fact you couldn’t, in your heart of hearts, be passionate enough about spending time with them to accept invitations for dinner. But how to tell them without gaining an enemy forever? Ouch!

I don’t want make writers, especially my lovely friends, think I’m going to introduce their work to editors if I have no intention of doing so. If I tell you, “Well, I’d like this better if the heroine’s eyes were blue and her name was Sally,” and you changed both factors and sent it back to me, you’d expect me to pursue your work. Now, in truth, I might think your book would be better with blue-eyed Sally instead of green-eyed Sarah, but another agent might disagree. Unless I’m serious about pursuit, it’s better for me to keep my opinion to myself.

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