Slush Piles, Pitches and Hooks
Even though I work in the publishing industry, it didn’t afford me a lot of shortcuts in getting my first book published. In fact, Vanguard Prime: Goldrush was sent to Penguin through their slush pile. The slush pile is where many unsolicited manuscripts go to die; if you don’t have an agent to submit your book to publishers, you’re going to end up on the slush pile. So what does it take to navigate those tricky waters?
What you need is to put together a professional but attention-grabbing manuscript submission. The guidelines for these vary from publisher to publisher, but the package that I put together included a cover letter, a one-page plot synopsis and the first few chapters of my manuscript.
The cover letter to my manuscript submission read like this;
To the Editor,
My name is Steven Lochran and I'm writing in regard to my manuscript Vanguard Prime, which could be described as ‘Alex Rider joins the X-Men’. I’ve included a synopsis and the first three chapters for your perusal, as well as a SSAE for reply.
I graduated from Queensland University of Technology with a Bachelor's Degree in Creative Writing. During my time there I worked as a freelance journalist and sub-editor. I moved to Melbourne in 2006 where I now work as a publishing sales rep.
Vanguard Prime represents a true labour of love for me. It combines my passion for books and writing with both my lifelong interest in comics and the insight I've gained from selling into bookshops and discussing with them what their customers respond to. I hope you enjoy it.
Thank you very much for your time and consideration.
With that, I included this one-page plot synopsis;
Sam Lee is a 14-year-old with a secret. He’s the newest and also the youngest member of Vanguard Prime, a team of elite superheroes charged with protecting the Earth.
Each member of Vanguard Prime is a world-famous celebrity, worshipped by millions. Their opinions are sought on everything from national security to preferred brand of laundry detergent. Completely in awe of these powerhouse icons, Sam has to somehow make a home amongst them onboard the largest aircraft carrier in human history. Plucked from the suburbs, he’s here to learn how to control his budding powers, how to fit in with his new surrogate family, and how to adjust to his… colourful… costume.
He’s also here to train for the day when he’ll have to face a real live super villain. That day comes sooner than anyone would have thought, however, when the Overman – Vanguard Prime’s greatest enemy – breaks free of his custom-built prison and wages a brutal assault on the team’s warship headquarters.
As the members of Vanguard Prime fall one-by-one to the Overman’s relentless strength and determination, can Sam prove himself as a true superhero? Can he save himself and his team mates, let alone the entire world? Posing the question of what would happen if Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider were to join the X-Men, Vanguard Prime is similar to such titles as Charlie Higson’s Young Bond series and Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl. It represents an evolution in the Teen Spy sub-genre, taking the superhero elements from those books and amplifying them.
Intended as the first book in a potential series, Vanguard Prime is about the time in your life when you start discovering who you are and what it means to be an adult…even if you’re already a superhero.
Now, I don’t know what Query Shark would have to say about this pitch. If anything, I’m pretty sure they’d tell me it could use an extensive rewrite. But it got me published and that’s the aim of the game, right?
You’ll notice that the line ‘Alex Rider joins the X-Men’ appears in both the cover letter and the plot synopsis. It’s also been included in a lot of the marketing materials for the finished book. This is what you’d call the “hook”, the vital piece of information that catches your potential reader’s interest.
It’s hard to distil an entire story down to something so simple, but if you can work out what your hook is then you’re dramatically increasing your chances of publication. The first book I tried (and failed) to get published had no clear hook, and it suffered for it.
You’ll also notice that I offer a few other titles that my book could be compared to. With this, I’m demonstrating where my book fits in the market and what its readership is…but also what separates it, what makes it unique.
Overall, the best thing you can do when putting a pitch together is to research, research, research - research what a publisher's submissions guidelines are, what kind of books they publish, what they may be looking for. And when you’re done with that and ready to draft your submission, remember to be professional and succinct.
I can’t guarantee it will get you published, but it will help separate you from all the other queries stacked up in the slush pile. And that can often make all the difference.
If you have any questions about the manuscript submission process, make sure to let us know in the comments section! And if you want to read for yourself what happens when "Alex Rider joins the X-Men", then make sure to enter the competition to win a signed copy of Vanguard Prime: Goldrush!