A few more notes today C&P'd from the pitch thread at eharlequin. I am in the middle of another one of those "where is the time going?" weeks, so I'm trying to do this as efficiently as I can.
Yesterday I did a short bit about proof reading.
For the most part, the pitches came through without very many errors. Sometimes there was the odd miss-typed key or funky space. Every now and again though I would find a spelling mistake, and so I would recommend running a spell check on your work before you send. I read through them as I printed and so the spelling concerns already had the red line beneath them.
Did I put anyone's aside because of a misspelled word? Of course not. Again, this is just a suggestion for when you submit elsewhere, so that your pitch etc is as polished as it can possibly be.
The most problematic thing is sentence structure. Awkward sentences, tense agreement, pronoun agreement; those types of things make a pitch difficult to read. If you have long run on sentences or funky syntax things going on, your pitch isn't as clear as it needs to be. This applies to any writing - synopses, query letters, your manuscript...
So here's my hint for you. Read every sentence out loud. If it feels awkward to read, if you read it and it doesn't come out smoothly and clearly, you might need to rethink it. I try to read every manuscript out loud from start to finish before I send it to my editor. I pick up on awkward phrasing, word placement and repetition that way, much more effectively than if I simply gave it an extra read through.
I'm also going to chat very briefly about keywords. In the same way that a logline condenses a story down to encapsulate what it's really about, the use of keywords in your pitch can really help with clarity and can show the strength of your plot and conflict.
It's hard to fit what you want to say about your characters and story in a few short paragraphs. REALLY hard. So one of the things I noticed in the pitches that I particularly liked was when certain words jumped out at me. Were these "hooks"? Sometimes. Not always. Some words that popped out were things like Marriage of convenience, secret baby (those are the hooky type ones), revenge, redemption (those are thematic) and survivor's guilt, painful divorce, secrets, trust, desertion (character issues).
You have limited words to get your point across. Using keywords can lend clarity without taking up a lot of space and again - giving the person reading it instant context.