12.23: Proposals, Pitches, and Queries

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard

Let’s talk about selling your stuff. In this episode we discuss query letters, pitches, and proposals—the tools that you use to present your material to people who can pay you for it, and who will partner with you in the task of selling it to the general public.

Liner Notes: This episode pairs very nicely with episode 11.50, “Hand-Selling Your Book,” with Michael R. Underwood.

Credits: this episode was recorded in Cosmere House Studios by Dan Dan the Audioman Thompson, and mastered deep beneath a rugby pitch by Alex Jackson


Write a pitch. Memorize it. Get other people to stamp your “I pitched my story to you” card. (link leads to a printable PDF)

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, narrated by Morven Christie and Lucie Gaskell

11 thoughts on “12.23: Proposals, Pitches, and Queries”

  1. Uh… QueryShark is against including the ending in the query letter. She says, “A query letter is NOT the place to reveal the ending of the book. You want to entice me to read it, not tell the whole story. ”

    This is consistent with every article I’ve read on queries in the last two months, while I’ve been getting ready to submit my manuscript to agents for the first time.

    The ending goes in the synopsis, which many agents also require along with the query.

    1. Precisely my thinking Lorraine! I’ve been researching query writing extensively and submitting to agents for the past couple months (and have gotten some full and partial requests), and I felt the query letter segment of this episode was lacking. It would be useful to have someone on who actually got plucked from the slush pile by virtue of their successful query letter (I think they did that briefly a few seasons ago, but an update would be helpful).

      The proposal segment was interesting though, and of course I always love the crew’s discussions regarding pitching.

    2. I agree. Endings are for the synopsis.

      I love these guys, but it was obvious that none of them have queried agents in a long time. I’ve been querying agents for the last couple of years, and it took me lots and lots of failures to figure out how to actually get requests for partials and fulls, and that was even after following all the instructions available from agents, authors, and websites to teach me how to do it.

      For Brandon, he probably just has to say, “I am New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson and I have an idea for a book.” It would probably work for me too, but I’d be lying. And they’d probably figure it out pretty quickly.

      Having sent out a hundred of these query letters for multiple books and having learned from my mistakes, I didn’t find the advice in this podcast to be particularly helpful. I think this is a subject that requires an expert, and sadly it’s so subjective, even experts aren’t really experts, except for what catches their own eye.

  2. Love the podcast. I’ve been going back through the first few seasons – season 4 here I come.

    Moment of geekdom – I love Brandon’s writing. No offense to the rest of you guys, I like you two, but Brandon’s the best. Today I managed to find an advanced copy of “Steelheart.” So cool! And my library gave it to me for free. This is why I love public libraries. Now if only I could get Brandon to give me advanced copies of all his books . . .

  3. Query, pitch, proposal, synopsis, sample chapters… a sympathetic character dealing with real trouble in a fascinating place, with a climax you love? Hey, the original quartet, Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard, tackle the key sales tools that writers use to get their novel sold. So polish up that pitch and convince someone that you have something interesting for them! Read all about it, in the transcript now available in the archives and over here:


  4. Wow, everybody seems to be hating on the query letter advice in this podcast. As someone who has yet to submit a full-length novel, what should I do when I get to that point? I’ve heard conflicting opinions from other places as well, so I’d love to see some sort of definative answer, or even to know if different agents prefer different things. Help?

    1. J. Charles DeBarou–You’ll have to scour the farthest reaches of the internet and read everything you can about writing query letters, submitting to agents, and polishing your work. You’ll also have to think about categorizing and generally showing the commercial appeal of your work to agents. Use the word cloud on the homepage of Writing Excuses to click on things like “Agents” and “Publishing,” etc and listen to relevant episodes.

      From all of my research, I could generally say queries should be around 250-350 words (pretty short). They usually contain three parts (but I broke mine into more than 3 paragraphs for easy email reading)–a hook, a brief teaser-y synopsis, and an author bio with only relevant or interesting tidbits. Always include title, genre/age group (like mine is YA Fantasy), and word count at some point (I put this up front). It’s sort of like a cross between a cover letter for a job and the back cover of a book.

      Query many agents simultaneously, but individually , if that makes sense (Don’t send mass emails). Make sure you follow the agency’s guidelines carefully. Most seem to prefer email or web-form queries instead of snail mail. Don’t rely on only one website, one person, or one blog to inform about how to write a query–search far and wide. Search “successful query letters” on google to read what actually ending up getting requests (that was enlightening for me).

      It’s hard to write good query letters–it’s different than writing a good book, but agents–generally–seem to figure if you can’t write a good query, then why should they trust that you can write a good book? I can see the logic there even if it’s a bit depressing for the writer in the slush pile.

  5. So confused.
    I agree with J. Charles. Since all the principals here are all a little removed from the current Query scene, I think it might be a good subject for a special guest episode when you have a couple of authors who recently broke into the field via having their Queries accepted – so we can see what works nowadays.

  6. Hi! Okay, I know you don’t know me, and this comment doesn’t really deal with the podcast because we don’t have the agent and query letter system here in Sweden, we basically just send our completed manuscript directly to publishing houses. Don’t hate; Emigrate. :D But I had to tell someone that I got a positive rejection today. First one ever! It was from a big publishing house for my very first fantasy novel which I submitted last October. It arrived today and… I just had to tell someone! They said the reason they had kept the manuscript for so long was because they couldn’t make their minds up, and even though it was a rejection, they said I should “see it as a good sign”. I’m just gobsmacked, and I wanted to tell someone, so I’m telling you awesome people at WE, because your podcast helped me edit that novel(then you helped me plot the story I’m working on now, and you keep my motivation up every week!). I only found Writing Excuses last year, but since then I’ve listened to it over and over(and over!) again from season 1 and onwards. You guys are amazing! You’re really funny, kind-hearted, generous and unbelivably inspiring, and if it wasn’t for your wise words I wouldn’t have dared to submit anything, I would have given up and I would have been so disheartened. Thank you, thank you, thank you! :)

    1. Congratulations! That really is a good sign, and it should serve as external validation (which you don’t need, obviously) to keep writing. So, you know, keep writing!

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