I’ve noticed something recently in many of the queries I receive: the writer wants to tell me all about the emotional journey of the story, but they aren’t telling me the actual story. Quite often, it feels like I’m given a general premise and a resolution but I don’t actually know what happens between the first and last pages.
Let’s think about this a bit. What is a story? It’s action, plot, and characters that are going places and doing things. Ideally for the writer, the problem is with the pitch (easy to fix) rather than with the entire book (not as easy to fix). Remember: the emotional journey of a character is reflected in the action of the story. But the story itself is just that—action, characters making moves that are always working towards a goal.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. (Note: this is not a real query):
(Protagonist)’s life has not been easy, but she’s made it through. Surviving a decidedly rough upbringing, she must cope with the pain of her mother’s violent drug abuse from a very early age.
Okay, we’re getting somewhere…
Vowing to never fall into the same traps as her mother, she relocates to a new city to start her entire life over. She must battle each day to find happiness and contentment, and not let her demons rule her life.
However, she feels that the memories of her past are never far behind. Throughout the story, she has to learn that we’re all human and that her mother needs her help. Ultimately, she forgives her mother and gets her into treatment.
Wait, hang on. What actually happens in the novel?
When it comes to distilling your entire novel into one paragraph for your query—a task I do not envy—you must zero in on the main characters and plot points. The emotional journey of a book is important, but when it comes to the pitch, be sure to convey the actual story first, and bring in the broader themes after.