Selling your Story by Margaret James
Today we are hosting Margaret James. She is an author, journalist and teacher of creative writing.
Thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your website today.
I’m a writer of fiction, a journalist and a teacher of creative writing. My latest novel Girl in Red Velvet is set in Oxford and the action begins in 1966 when Lily Denham is seventeen and beginning her studies at the university.
On her first day she meets best friends Harry Gale and Max Farley and is enchanted by their mischievous charm.
But will falling for two men rip her own heart apart?
As a teacher of creative writing, my students often ask me how they should go about offering a novel to a literary agent or to a commercial publisher. They know about writing a covering letter, but they’re not always aware that there are four other important selling tools too.
- The one line pitch
- The elevator pitch
- The blurb
- The synopsis
I’ll use the story of The Sleeping Beauty as my example for all of these four selling tools.
The one line pitch is what you’ll see on the covers of published novels, cinema posters and elsewhere. They sum up a story in – surprise, surprise – one line. Since they are very effective selling tools, your own novel or whatever will need one because it could go at the head of your covering letter, your blurb, your synopsis and eventually on the cover of your published book.
The one line pitch needs to suggest the central question you’ll be asking in your story. Actually, the one line pitch might ask the question, but this isn’t mandatory. It just needs to get the reader interested.
Try for about ten words:
How can you protect your child from everything?
When you write a one line pitch of your own book, try to get the essence of the story into that one line.
The elevator pitch is slightly longer. But it’s not much longer. It’s the pitch you offer a publisher at a party, conference or in an elevator when you don’t have much time and you need to get your most important story points across. You might get interrupted in the process!
Try for about fifty words – a couple of minutes-worth of conversation.
When a wicked fairy curses a princess, of course the king and queen do everything they can to protect their daughter. But there was always going to be something they’d forgotten. The bad fairy’s curse puts everyone in the kingdom to sleep and, unless a handsome prince comes along, it looks as if nobody will be able to wake them.
The blurb is more detailed than the one line pitch and elevator pitch, but it is still very short and it still needs to be attention-grabbing. It should also be open-ended. This is because it’s a teaser intended to make the reader want to buy the book. So it often ends with a question. When you’re writing a blurb, try for between about 100 and 200 words long.
When the King and Queen of X invite the fairies to their baby daughter’s christening party, they make the mistake of leaving one fairy out – and she’s a bad fairy, too.
She turns up anyway and curses the princess, saying that on her sixteenth birthday she will prick her finger on a spindle and die.
A good fairy steps in to do some damage limitation. She softens the spell so the princess is cursed to sleep for a hundred years.
But who wants to sleep for a hundred years? Well, Mum and Dad are on the case, so maybe the princess won’t come to any harm at all? Or maybe…
The synopsis is a tightly-focused summary of the complete novel, story, article or whatever. It needs to show the reader that the author can actually construct a story. So it must always reveal the ending.
A synopsis should be:
Short – between 250 and a maximum of 500 words.
Clear – write in the third person and the present tense, explaining whose story you are telling, where it is set, when it is set, what the big question(s) is/are going to be, and how everything is resolved at the end.
Complete – provide the reader with an outline of the whole story. If you don’t do this, you’ll be writing a blurb.
You should aim to write your synopsis in a way that suggests the style, tone and content of your novel.
When you’re putting together a submission letter to a literary agent or a publisher you could probably use all these four selling tools. Your covering letter could be headed up with the title of the novel (or indeed with the title of any other book) you wish to submit and, on the same line, with your one line pitch:
The Sleeping Beauty – when will she wake up?
You could follow this up with your elevator pitch, which will hopefully intrigue the reader and make him want to know more.
You should probably write your synopsis on a separate page of your submission. But some literary agents and publishers might not want to see a whole synopsis. They might want a blurb. You’ll need to check their submission guidelines carefully, because if someone asks you for a synopsis they’ll mean they want a synopsis, not an open-ended blurb.
Good luck with your submissions!