Pitch the Story

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There are many milestones to reach on the way to publication. First one of course, is having a story to write. Most of what I write starts with an idea and not a story. The idea gives birth to the story. I’m a ‘Panster’, plotting as I go. More on the Pros and Cons of that in another post. However it begins, eventually a novel is created. Next step, write a query, with the ultimate goal of convincing an agent to represent your precious project that you have lived and breathed for months, sometimes years.

That was the course I was on this time around. I edited a summary of my novel a hundred times until finally satisfied (more like exhausted from editing), I sent out four queries to agents. I was rejected by every single one. But alas, there were no tears or sulking from the replies. In fact, it was an enlightening experiment. The results? I learned agents seem to be first interested in the story. The sales pitch has to be the story. How well the pitch is written is less important than how engaging and how well explained the story. Some of you are probably saying ‘duh’. Hey, I never claimed to be brilliant.

But I looked a little closer at that discovery. I reviewed my summary and realized though I used catchy phrases and active sentence structure, I wasn’t even sure what my story was really all about. I had 103,000 words and I couldn’t quite say what it all meant. A huge storm cloud began to form over my head. What was my story in its simplest essence? Scenes came back to me that in my heart I knew had no purpose. Characters, a wife even, seemed pointless to the story. The storm kept building until finally the deluge let loose and poured down, “Revise, revise, revise!” So began the “major revision version” resulting in around 30,000 words cut. It was hard but, it felt good because the story boiled down until it is now the pure, sweet syrup of what I meant to say.

So, what am I saying in this post? Don’t craft your query letter at the end or even the middle of writing your novel. Craft it in the beginning. Getting the summary concise and meaningful will keep you on track and not let characters step in that distract and eat up time. It will guard against perfect but pointless scenes that dilute the power of your message. Try it!

Writer’s 10 Second Rule

There’s an urban myth that if something falls on the floor and it is picked up within ten seconds, it’s as good as if it never dropped, perfectly safe. Microbes have not had time to contaminate.

Our kitchen floor is particularly good for this rule because the floor is a soft linoleum. When a chunk of buttered Italian bread hits the floor, it bounces. Catch it on the first bounce and all is well.

The truth is microbes are fast little buggers. They don’t play by the arbitrary rules humans set up to make tough choices easier or better yet help busy moms save that lollipop to avoid ear splitting screams. With the said rule declared, we save otherwise lost causes. Why? Ultimately, the human body is built to combat invaders, and being germophobic is a luxury most of the world can’t live by, even in a COVID-19 world. Adjustments are made in expectations; risks are accepted, and life goes on. The rule provides an escape hatch to practical sensibility.

Give yourself the same break. If your story falls flat (or any endeavor), if rejections pour in and critiques feel overwhelmingly critical, don’t abandon it as a lost cause. Brush it off, pick out the dirt, slice off the bad part. You’ll avoid calling your less than perfect creative work, ‘trash’ and maybe quell some ear-splitting screams from your heart. Look at it again. Did you see that bounce? It’s coming back up to you. Catch it!