Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Pitch Letter example

Back in May I sold Kennedy Foster's debut novel Standfast to Abby Zidle at Pocket Books.

At the time I sold it there were several editors looking at the book. The first cover letter copied below is to one of them. The cover letter to Abby is below that one. There are three differences (not spelling errors or punctuation but actual specific changes). Can you spot them?

Dear Editrixilated:

Thanks for your phone call today and your interest in STANDFAST!

STANDFAST is a ranch in the Palouse country of eastern Washington; it’s also Alice Andison’s approach to life. Alice has worked the ranch alone in the years since her father’s death.

One winter day the ranch collies bark the arrival of an unknown horse: riderless, saddled, desperately thirsty. Alice knows she must at least attempt to find the missing rider despite thigh high snow and the dropping temperature.

Domingo Rolodan, who has spent sixteen years north of the Line working cattle and horses, avoided the latest INS raid by sheer luck. He and his prized mare made a heart stopping escape across a railroad bridge, far above the Snake River, crosstie to crosstie, praying desperately the Empire Builder from Montana wasn’t due. It is his mare who finds her way to STANDFAST that cold winter morning.

The cold and snow mean the rider is probably dead, but Alice knows she must go look. “Cowboy up Alice” she tells herself as she heads out with her top collie and saddle horse. She can be out in the unforgiving open for only two hours; it will be mere chance if she can find the missing rider in that time. Her collie sees him first: a hunched body in a snow bank, clearly past life. “Dreading to look” Alice then “realized the rag of white vapor that passed at intervals across the front of the hood came not from the collie, but from the corpse.”

STANDFAST is the story of how Alice and Domingo come to love each other, through cultural misunderstandings, the looming presence of a lien holder on the ranch, and the problems of family. Immigration issues give the book a modern feel without making it so contemporary it will be dated in another year.

I love the lean elegant prose of STANDFAST, and I love the characters. I love how (Ms) Kennedy Foster shows us new and unexpected sides of characters we thought were old hat: Mexican workers, ranchers, cowgirls, even lawyers.

I hope you will love this as much as I do. There’s another novel, probably YA, with the same characters, told from the point of view of a middle school girl. I have no idea how it would fit into a marketing plan for STANDFAST but figured you should know.

Thanks for taking a look at this.


Here's the one to Abby:

Yeehaw, Cowgirl!

Thanks for your interest in STANDFAST!

STANDFAST is a ranch in the Palouse country of eastern Washington; it’s also Alice Andison’s approach to life. Alice has worked the ranch alone in the years since her father’s death.

One winter day the ranch collies bark the arrival of an unknown horse: riderless, saddled, desperately thirsty. Alice knows she must at least attempt to find the missing rider despite thigh high snow and the dropping temperature.

Domingo Rolodan, who has spent sixteen years north of the Line working cattle and horses, avoided the latest INS raid by sheer luck. He and his prized mare made a heart stopping escape across a railroad bridge, far above the Snake River, crosstie to crosstie, praying desperately the Empire Builder from Montana wasn’t due. It is his mare who finds her way to STANDFAST that cold winter morning.

The cold and snow mean the rider is probably dead, but Alice knows she must go look. “Cowboy up Alice” she tells herself as she heads out with her top collie and saddle horse. She can be out in the unforgiving open for only two hours; it will be mere chance if she can find the missing rider in that time. Her collie sees him first: a hunched body in a snow bank, clearly past life. “Dreading to look” Alice then “realized the rag of white vapor that passed at intervals across the front of the hood came not from the collie, but from the corpse.”

STANDFAST is the story of how Alice and Domingo come to love each other, through cultural misunderstandings, the threat of deportation, the looming presence of a lien holder on the ranch, and the problems of family.

I love the lean elegant prose of STANDFAST, and I love the characters. I love how Kennedy Foster shows us new and unexpected sides of characters we thought were old hat: Mexican workers, ranchers, cowgirls, even lawyers.

I hope you will love this as much as I do. There’s another novel, probably YA, with the same characters, told from the point of view of a middle school girl. I have no idea how it would fit into a marketing plan for STANDFAST but figured you should know.

Thanks for taking a look at this.

9 comments:

She's Lost Angeles said...

Okay, I'll play -

1. the Yeehaw Cowgirl opener is new and more evocative.

2. the line about immigration issues making it feel contemporary but not dated has been removed

3. The new twist on old characters in the second-to-last graph is new.

As for the opening, I think that could go either way (I'd be turned off by it, but I'm assuming you know your audience.)

The second point is a basic rule of sales: don't raise doubts in the customer's mind that they didn't have before.

And the last one is differentiation, how it stands out, in a good way, from the pack.

The first letter was good, but it makes sense that the second sold it. Did you tailor it to the editor based on what you know about her, or did you just generally strengthen your approach?

Amy Nathan said...

1. Yee Haw Cowgirl!
That leads me to believe you know this editor well and that she would react well to this (you were right).

2. (Ms.)
In the first letter you make it known that the author is female in this way.

3. The line about immigration is removed from the 2nd letter.

My thought is that the first letter over-explains. Either you didn't know the editor well or he or she is a bit of a stuffed shirt -- and you thought they'd miss the boat if you didn't lay it all out there.

Obviously the right editor went for the book. Congrats to you and to the author.

Just_Me said...

All the above and in the second one you switched around the order of relevance, immigration comes before the worries of a lien holder.

Good writing, Janet (and Ms. Foster). :o) Not my usual genre but I'll look for it when it comes out.

Southern Writer said...

I don't care about the differences. What I care about (other than both are excellent hooks) is the escape over the Snake River. I mean, have you seen that bridge? Shiiiiiit! I'd read this book for that alone. The rest sounds intriguing, though, and I'm not surprised it was snapped up. I'll be snapping it up myself when it's released.

JES said...

In reading agents' and editors' blogs, we can easily fix them in our heads as people who write a certain way, have certain personalities and foibles and obsessions, and so on. We don't often get reminders that these people don't just write for fun, but damn, they're really, really good writers in general, and especially in their "business" writing.

Differences between versions covered adroitly by previous commenters. :)

So thanks for posting this and the (Parrot Sketch Excluded) one!

Jolie said...

Oh, yay! Thanks for posting more pitch letters. I'm always interested to see these.

How much does the author's original query letter influence your pitch letter? Do you ever use any of the same wording? Do you use the same basic hook or plot summary, or do you form an entirely new approach based on your own reading of the MS?

Southern Writer said...

Good questions, Jolie. I'd like to know the answers, too.

Chumplet said...

It's interesting how different a query letter and a pitch letter can be. You have so much more freedom with a pitch letter, delving into writing style and concepts. You already know the editor and can tailor the letter to their interests.

Verrah cool...

Oh, and I see you didn't mention genre outright. This reads like a romance to me.

Mystery Robin said...

Well great, now I can't wait to read the book and I'm guessing I'll have to wait for a loooong time....