Thursday, September 01, 2011

Pitch versus query

Pitches and queries are not the same thing. They're like eating apples and pie apples: both apples but different purposes.

A good query tells you just enough about the book to entice you to read on.  I yammer endlessly about that topic over at QueryShark.  Other really sterling examples can be found in "Briefly Noted" the New Yorker magazine book review section, and in Shelf Awareness reviews.

It's harder to find good examples of pitches.  Today's issue of Shelf Awareness has both.

In the review of  THERE BUT FOR by Valerie Ryan, here's the second paragraph:

Once a year, Genevieve and Eric Lee give an "alternative" annual dinner party, to which they "invite people who were a bit different from the people they usually saw, as well as friends they saw all the time." Maybe a Muslim, a Jew or a Palestinian--a foray into diversity. This year a friend of a friend, Mark Palmer, brings Miles Garth with him. The title of the first section is "There," followed by "was once a man who, one night between the main course and the sweet at a dinner party, went upstairs and locked himself in one of the bedrooms of the house of the people who were giving the dinner party." That man is Miles. And thereby hangs the tale.

Now, do you want to read more? Heck yes you do. That's the basis of a query letter.

But if someone says "hey, what's your book about?" you're not going to recite that paragraph. Not unless you want their eyeballs to glaze over anyway. No, this is where you need The Pitch.

Here's the shelf talker for that very same book:

A dinner guest excuses himself from the table, goes upstairs and locks himself in a bedroom, where he remains for three months. We wonder why. Four people try to tell us.

Short, to the point, enticing.

You need a query letter AND a pitch. You don't combine the two. Read good examples to get a sense of how this works. Shelf Awareness is a good place to start. You can subscribe to their daily email at no cost.***

***The expense is that you'll want to order a lot of the books they talk about. Frankly, it would cost me less to send Marilyn Dahl to Antarctica for six months than to continue to read her reviews. On the other hand, every book I read from her reviews is amazing. It's a dilemma.


Dallas said...

I think There but for is by Ali Smith?

I'm dyyying to read it!

BP said...

Too many books a delimma? AH YES, but such a divine one! ;D

Jonathan Dalar said...

That is an AWESOME pitch! To me, the entire pitch is made perfect with a single word: TRY. That one word tells so very much without really saying a thing.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

So simple, even I get it ;) thanks! Curiuos as to what genre THERE BUT FOR is.

Anonymous said...

Not to be nitpicky (okay, totally nitpicky), but:

***Once a year***, Genevieve and Eric Lee give an "alternative" ***annual*** dinner party.

But a lovely paragraph apart from that. :)

Also, I may have to acquire that book now.

inklings Anon said...

Is there any way you can post a complete query that you've accepted? Most agent blogs dissect bad queries or talk about parts of good queries. It would be helpful for me to see one really good query without any distractions

Anonymous said...

@ Caleb

If you go to Query Shark (, you'll see her dissecting a lot of bad queries - but many of them were re-submitted a few times and finally got to "yes." And a few were indeed "yes" at first try! So if you dig through the archives, you can find plenty of accepted queries. :)

inklings Anon said...

are there any that aren't dissected? I just want to look at a good one that is just stamped good nothing else follows.

Janet Reid said...

Gosh, it's amazing what turns up when you try this new fangled thing called a search engine. Google! What a concept.

"successful queries" + "janet reid" = tadaaaa!

Colin Smith said...


As Janet says, a quick Google search can work wonders. For example, would you like to see a query that led to an agent and then to publication? Search on "kirsten hubbard query" in Google. You can find her query letter, and also find notes from her agent (Michelle Andelman) explaining why the query grabbed her attention. Her novel, LIKE MANDARIN, has been published, and I've read more than one agent citing this as an example of a book they would loved to have repped. :)

inklings Anon said...

Thanks Ms. Reid. I'm not as new to this as it appears. I Google everything else. I think when I've gone on Query Shark before, I must have gone on days where a query was shredded to pieces. I understand why it's done that way. A shrink once told me that there are two ways to make the donkey go. One is to beat him with the stick and the other is to entice him with a carrot. He said that I was the donkey who needed the carrot.
And then it happened. I got Query Shark and Miss Snark mixed up and Miss Snark is no more, so you see, I hadn't been to Query Shark in a little while because of the confusion.
But as it happens, I thought maybe I wasn't the only donkey that preferred carrots over sticks so I thought I was trying to help the other donkeys.
I learned something today. Don't ask dumb questions :-) Even carrot donkeys can learn from the stick ;-)

inklings Anon said...

Also, thank you Colin

inklings Anon said...

I just read Kirsten Hubbard's query 1.0 and 2.0. My gosh that was helpful seeing only the query.

Anyway, I heart the North East and I hope they get back to some normalcy soon. keep us updated.

Gregory C. Randall said...

great to find your site, look forward to more.

BuddyWeb said...

What I like here is the fact that we're seeing good, tight storytelling. No excess words to distract you. Just punchy sentences and a killer hook.

It also helps clarify two types of pitch writing that always seemed vaguely similar.

Yeah, I'm also kind of interested in reading this now too.

Buddy Scalera

Kathryn Schipper said...

I like the idea of looking to the "Briefly Noted" reviews in the New Yorker.