Taming the Beast: From Pitch To Query To Synopsis

Thursday, February 20, 2014
So you’re almost finished with your book. Perhaps you’re leaning back in your chair, thinking, “Whew. The hard’s part nearly done!”



Unless you’re planning on self-publishing, you’ll need to convince someone—either an agent or an editor—that your book is amazing. For that feat, you’re going to need a pitch, and a query, and probably a synopsis, too. And those thousands of words you wrote for your book will seem like child’s play compared to the beastly task ahead of you.

Why is it so hard to write a pitch or a query or a synopsis? One reason may be that we’re a bit confused. What makes a pitch different from a query? A query from a synopsis? You can research—and it’s as easy as asking, “How to write a query letter (or pitch or synopsis)?” But you can start with my quick, down and dirty tips for whipping these beasts into shape.

The Pitch

When I’m figuring out my pitch, first I figure out the essence of my story. Somebody wants something. A pitch is usually around 30 words, so you need to zip to your want, and then cut to the twist, the part of the story that makes it different.

If I were pitching Beauty and the Beast, I might write:

Beauty is prepared to sacrifice her life to save her father from a terrifying beast. (The initial want.) But this Beast doesn’t want Beauty’s life—he wants her love. (The twist to the story.)

The Query

The query has several parts, but for now, we’re concentrating on the bit about your plot to understand the difference with a pitch.

With the query, you get a couple sentences to explain your story. (Whee!) But you do not get to tell the ending! The point of your query is to generate interest, to rattle an agent’s brain so much that he or she must read the rest of your story.

So you write the set-up, follow with the conflict, and include stakes and the twist. That’s usually about three to five sentences, and that’s really all you need to reel ‘em in.

A query for Beauty and the Beast might read:

Belle’s father has plucked a rose from the Beast’s castle and now he must pay with his life. But Belle, who asked for the rose, insists on taking his place. (The set-up) The Beast surprises Belle with kindness, instead asking for her hand in marriage. Belle refuses, for she does not love him. (The conflict) But the Beast has a terrible secret, a secret that will take his life—and only Belle can save him. (The stakes, and the twist to the story.)

The Synopsis

Oh, joy! With the synopsis, we at last get lots and lots of words to tell our story, from beginning to end. But often, writers struggle with the synopsis as well.

If the synopsis is challenging for you, try this technique: take each chapter and sum it up in one sentence. When you’re done, go back and edit. Take out anything that doesn’t move the story along, and perhaps add transitions to make it all sparkly.

Whew! Now you’re ready to tame your own pitch, query and synopsis. All you have to do is finish the darn book.

~Cathy C. Hall


Anonymous said...

Whew! These are such difficult things to write. I don't know if I can write them. (Is that enough whine, or do I need the real stuff?)

Debra Mayhew said...

Hahaa! Your last line is EXACTLY what I was thinking when I finished reading your post. I suppose it would work in reverse, too. If I can figure out a pitch, query, and synopsis, the book will practically write itself...Right?

Renee Roberson said...

I have no problem writing first, second and third drafts but I'd rather climb into bed and bury my head under the covers before churning out pitches, queries and synopses. They are the bane of my existence and most likely what is keeping me from getting published up to this point. Thanks for a great breakdown, Cathy!

BECKY said...

Wow!....Where were you when I needed ya? (begin singing 60s song in your head now, Cathy C!!)

Margo Dill said...

These are awesome tips, Cathy!How did you get so smart???? :) Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Sioux, whatever works. :-)

And Debra, um...no. But nice try. :-)

And I'm very glad to know, Renee, that it's not just me!

Becky, you've finished the book and now all that's left is the promotin'. That's pretty hard work, too!

And Margo, I've had a LOT of practice. ;-)

Donna Volkenannt said...

Thanks for the great suggestions, Cathy.

Love the idea of summing up each chapter into one sentence for the synopsis. And I hope my transitions are all sparkly!

Gail said...

I always learn something useful from you! I wouldn't say the pitch and query are now easy-peasy, but they most definitely are easier with your tips!!!

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