tagged with: query letter

As I continue to research agents to query for Coming Out Of Egypt, I sometimes stop to read that agent’s blog to see what he/she might be looking for or what his/her pet peeve might be. It never ceases to amaze me that most of the agents make the same comments about why they reject someone’s query.

Some of the comments I see are:

1. Query addressed to the wrong agent. Now you might think that the agent could pass it on to the right person, but if they are very busy and harried they may not be able to do this. Also, it shows that the author did not take the time to research the agency properly to see who accepts what.

2. Misspelling the agent’s name. This is a no-no! How would you like it if someone misspelled your name, or called you by the wrong name. The agent probably thinks, if she misspelled my name she may misspell other things too.

3. Not following the guidelines. If they ask for a one-page synopsis, then please don’t send two pages, thinking more is better. If they only accept 75, 000 word manuscripts, don’t send them 80, 000. If they ask for the first three chapters, don’t leave them out. These may seem like nitpicking, but they are not, when you consider that agents receive hundreds of submissions a day. As great as your query may be, they won’t have the time to call you up and ask you for the missing pages.

4. Poorly-written queries. This may not be your fault. You may simply not know the first thing about crafting a query. Then learn. Attend writer’s conferences; take a course; join a critique group; read the agents’ blogs. Many of them mention that writers confuse the query with the synopsis. Consider your query your elevator pitch, what your book is about. This should not be more than three or four lines, according to one agent whose webinar I attended and who later requested my partial. Your synopsis is where you get to reveal the entire plot to the agent. When I say the entire plot, I mean the main plot, including how the story ends, not every little twist and turn. Then make sure you proofread your script, or better yet have another pair of eyes look at it for typos or grammatical errors.

Poorly-written opening page.
One agent puts it this way. “Please, for the love of books, do not use a mirror in the opening pages to have your character describe what they look like.” Try to hook your reader/agent from the opening sentence. Another turn off for agents is beginning by describing scenery or the person waking up or starting with backstory.

Leaving out your contact information. This could be an oversight, but it can cost you dearly if your query showed promise and the agent wants to contact you. If you submit by email, make sure you use your primary email so the agent can reach you. If you sent it by snail mail, be sure to include your SASE.

Before you submit your query to an agent/publisher, you should first see yourself as a salesperson taking a sample of your product to a manager or purchaser. You should 1) Know that the company sells the kind of product you are marketing. 2) Make sure your sample is the best it can be. No smudges, parts missing, or not working right. 3) Make sure you explain as succinctly as possible what your product can do for that company. If you bear these points in mind when preparing your query, you should have a winner.

You have worked for months, maybe years, on your novel and now you are faced with the daunting task of writing the synopsis. Writers dread the work of condensing a 300-page manuscript into one page. Knowing what to include and how to include it is crucial to writing a compelling synopsis.

What a synopsis is not

It is not an author’s bio, nor the reason why you wrote the book. You can state this briefly in your query letter, but only briefly. It is not a character sketch, neither is it a list of plot points. Having said that, let’s take a look at what a synopsis is:

It is a summary of your book

Plain and simple. It contains the beginning andthe end with the high points of your story sandwiched between them.

It is compelling

Notice I use the word compelling because your synopsis should be as compelling as the story itself. And in order to do that you have to first start with a hook, just as you did at the beginning of your book. You want the editor to continue reading, right? Then in the body of your synopsis you write the salient points of your story in chronological order. This may not happen in your book, but for the sake of clarity, events should follow each other in order.

It uses strong verbs

Just as when you wrote the book, you chose strong verbs, used the active voice rather than passive and used adjectives and adverbs sparingly, do the same with your synopsis. And always write in the present tense.

It is concise

Leave out details that don’t matter. For example, if Anne confides in her friend, Susie, that she’s thinking of divorcing Jim, it’s not necessary to say Ann picked up the phone and called Susie and invited her to dinner and over a steak and lobster dinner … No, you are choking the details. Simply say what Anne tells Susie.

It includes action and reaction

Be careful to state how major characters react to events in the story – if their reaction helps to drive the plot. Let’s say Susie is thrilled at Anne’s news because she has had her eyes on Jim for a long time – then you must include that.

It follows the agent’s/editor’s guidelines

Some agents may ask for a one-page synopsis, some may simply say “short.” If they do not specify, limit your synopsis to two or three pages.

I heard someone say it’s a good idea to write the synopsis first. I don’t think that would work for me. My characters tend to change direction midway. But if you have carefully plotted your novel before you started writing your story, then you can give it a try. Either way, the more you practice, the better you will become. Why not try writing a synopsis for a story you have read?

My post in the A – Z challenge is going to be a short one on querying. If you are an author or freelance writer, you have no doubt researched the art of writing the query letter, or may have attended workshops on the subject. Therefore, I will not bore you with writing what you already know. The query letter is one of the ways you get an agent or publisher to take notice of your work. If you get it right, you could be on to something, get it wrong and your excellent work goes unnoticed.

What if you could find a list of suitable agents, get some help with your query letters and keep track of where you sent them? I just signed up for Querytracker, a site which does all that and more. When you join Querytracker you become part of a community of writers who share the same goals and who can help you get your foot in the (agent’s) door. Sounds worthwhile? Check out Querytracker.net, or if you are already a member, drop me a line and let me know what your experience is like.