Agency Lessons: Pitch versus Query

I've been seeing this a lot in the query box, so I thought it might be a good time to bring it up. Folks, a pitch is not a query. There I said it.

So what is a pitch? To start, a pitch is short. Usually three lines or less. A pitch is also vague. Sometimes a pitch doesn't even use the main character's name, just their description. It also only gives a very brief overview of the main plot.

If I had to write a pitch for Hunger Games, it might go something like this:

A poor teen girl volunteers to enter a deadly game in order to save her sister. Faced with her own mortality, she learns the meaning of going out on your own terms.

I know that isn't stellar, but hopefully you get the idea. It's short and sweet, to the point and mostly vague, leaving out all the best details.

This is not a query. Luckily for us writers, we get a lot more room to tell our tale in a query letter. A good sized query is about 250 words. Take out 50 or so for your bio and intro and you've got roughly 200 words to sell an agent on your story.

So why in the world would you limit yourself to three sentences? A pitch is very popular in twitter pitch parties and blog hosted contests. And there is nothing wrong with that. Being able to narrow your manuscript down to 140 characters is a valuable lesson in understanding the core conflict of your story. That's great! But not great in a query.

Your query should give us an idea of who your main character is, the world he/she lives in, his/her main goal, the obstacle standing in their way and the choice they need to make in order to achieve the desired end. Yes, all of that. Now, if you can fit all of that into two sentences, kudos, but I doubt it will be your best work.

When it comes to your query, don't waste valuable real estate on a drawn out bio or agent love fest. Get right to the meat of your story and don't leave out the good stuff.

As an added side note, a query is not a synopsis. See my analysis of a good synopsis here.