Lead With Your Strongest Info by W. Terry Whalin

W. Terry WhalinIt is something I learned early on as a journalist: your writing must begin with strength. What is the most intriguing question or strongest quotation or provocative sentence to start your query letter or your pitch to the editor or agent?

In pitches and proposals from unpublished writers, I often see critical information buried. As a reader, I know many agents and editors will never discover this information because they gave up after the opening paragraph.

Last Fall, I met an author with a strong gift book proposal. While Morgan James Publishing doesn’t produce this type of book, there are many well-respected publishers who make gift books. This author had something unusual in her proposal: a strong endorsement from a well-known author. Yet it was buried on the last page of her proposal.

I reviewed her pitch letter or query and while she referred to the endorsement, it did not contain any of the actual words. I suggested she start with a small portion of the endorsement because it would catch positive attention.

Here’s the critical fact that many people forget: agents and editors receive a high volume of submissions. They have many factors tugging for their attention besides submissions which makes them skim through the submissions making quick decisions about reading it in depth or rejecting it.

It’s always surprising to me what a little reorganization can do to strengthen a pitch. The quotation from the well-known author catches attention and pulled the editor or agent to take a more detailed reading of this author’s work. Something simple like this can be the difference between acceptance and rejection.

The first step for any writer is to get their material into the marketplace and in front of the editors. Many writers are missing this critical step and not taking action to send out their work.

If you are taking this step and collecting a number of rejections, I suggest you take a fresh look at your pitch or query. Ask a few questions:

  • Do I have the strongest material in my pitch in the first paragraph or the first sentence?
  • Can I read my pitch with fresh eyes and see how the editor or agent is reacting to it?
  • Am I missing something critical that I’ve left out of the package? One of the most difficult things to see in your own work is something that is missing.
  • Can I add an endorsement or provocative quotation or something to get additional attention?

There are many other methods to gain the editor’s attention but these questions will give you some direction in this area. In our busy world, the writer has to take action and lead with their strongest information.

If you make these changes, write me and let me know how it worked out or helped you. I’m always eager to read your comments and feedback.


W. Terry Whalin, a writer and acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing, lives in Irvine, California. He has written more than 60 nonfiction books including Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams. His website is located at: www.terrywhalin.com.

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