Monday, April 20, 2015

The Query Letter and Synopsis: Lesser Known Tips

Last week, I shared my strategy for searching for a literary agent. This week's post includes lesser-known tips for writing an email query letter and advice that I followed for writing the dreaded one-page synopsis.

I) The Email Query

There's plenty of good stuff out there on how to write a query letter, but I didn't find it that useful. So I took classes at a Boston writing center called Grub Street and my letter went from "needs a lot of work" to something the agent teaching the class held up as an example of a good letter. (Apparently it wasn't that good because she hasn't offered to represent me.)

Here's a link to the query letter for my novel that includes the basic components:
- The positioning of the book and comparative titles.
- The hook and story.
- My qualifications to write it.
- Some humor to reflect the writing style of book.

Small Stuff I Didn't Learn in Any Class:

1) Subject Lines for EMail Queries
- Check the agents Web site for specifics on what to include in the subject line.
- If the site offers no details, I've been going with either:  "Query: agents name to whom I'm directing the query" or "Query and title of novel and category"

More than you want to know on this subject
"How to format an email query for literary agents"
"Subject lines are your bffs"

2) "I'm Querying You Because": Opening Sentences in Your Query

To some writers and agents, letting the agent know why you're querying is a good idea. Reasons you're querying them can include:
- One of their authors recommended you query them.
- You met the agent at a conference.
- You saw them on a manuscript wish-list site and your book fits their needs.
- You read their author's book, liked it, and wanted to query.

A great article on opening sentences for your query letter

On the other hand, some agents don't care if you have a good reason and will read your query anyway.

II) The Synopsis: A Huge Pain

My synopsis took me a week to write. The experience kind of sucked. In my agent research so far, it seems that a one-page query is the norm -- which is fine, I don't want to write a longer one.
In my synopsis I tried to focus on:
- Succinctly describing the main story, eschewing any subplots.
- Including a brief description of the protagonist.
- Injecting some humor, when appropriate, because my book is supposed to be funny .

Some good links on how to write a synopsis
- On Jane Friedman's site
- From


III) Other Tips

1) Once your email query is done, send it to yourself to see how it looks and to check for weird formatting.

2) Create files that include different packages that agents are likely to request. Here's what I've seen agents requesting:
- a query only
- a query with the first five pages of your novel,
- a query and synopsis
- a query and the first 10 pages,
- a query and the first chapter,
- a query and synopsis and first 10 pages.

Note: By having ready-made files, I can simply copy and paste the required text without having to assemble each one on the fly. Unless, requested otherwise, most agents will want you to paste the text into your email as opposed to sending documents as attachments.

3) Unorthodox querying advice from agent Janet Reid

- Consider querying agents who don't profess interest in your particular category or genre.
- If one agent at an agency says no, query other agents at the same agency.
- If you don't hear back from an agent within 30 days, query them two more times.

4) Typical Strategy for Finding a Publisher
- First, query literary agents.
- Then try small publishers, university presses, and publishing contests where the prizes include having your book published.
- Then, if you have the time and budget, self-publish.

*Note: I am not attempting to pass myself off as an expert on these topics. This article is a compilation of advice that author friends have followed. The advice seemed to make sense to me, so I'm following it. I am two weeks into the agent-querying process. So far, I've queried 15 agents: Three told me to take a hike, one requested a full manuscript, and from the others, so far just hearing crickets.

Photo credit: Me performing scenes from my novel at a fringe theater festival in D.C. shot by Paul Gillis Photography,

Related Links

- Read your work in public before you get published

- Social Media Tips and Links for Writers

- Create a Web page for your as-yet unpublished novel (my current page)

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