It’s the document that torments the minds of all aspiring authors. The blank piece of paper tasks you, daring you to minimize a ninety thousand word document into one hundred words. For countless hours you have labored over your manuscript, and now its future is reduced to a single page with an introduction and synopsis.
What is a Query Letter? For those who are completing their first manuscript and have not reached this point in the publishing process – it’s a quick snapshot of your work and a brief introduction of yourself. The Query Letter is the first document a publishing editor or agent will see before he/she is committed to seeing the rest of your work. I must note: Some publishers and agents see manuscripts upfront, but in general, it’s the Query Letter that’s seen first.
Good News: It’s only one bloody page.
Bad News: It’s only one bloody page.
How do I explain my story in one page that took me hundreds to write? First of all…you’re asking the wrong question. You shouldn’t be explaining anything. You’re now a salesman, so give them the pitch.
Disclosure: The methods I’m going to share do transcend genres, but I must confess, there is a fiction emphasis. Duh…I’m a fantasy author. And though I spent considerable time researching the process and suffering from trial and error, I also obtained the help from a friend and author, Michael Totten – author of The Road to Fatima Gate. His insights were a strong contribution toward my method – so for that reason it would be poor form to not give him credit.
The Query Letter
This is just as it sounds. Here you write a brief introduction, providing the name and word count of your novel. You should also give a quick comparison to a notable author, such as – Those who like (names of other titles) will also enjoy (the name of your book).
Brief Marketing pitch:
This is a good spot for a brief, one or two sentence selling point that relates your work with something popular. For instance – say you have a book about a superhero. You would write something quick like: Superhero stories will be popular this summer with the upcoming movie release of Avengers. (Name of your work) embodies the superhero genre – capturing the elements of the Hero and Villain dynamic – or something of the like.
This is the most important part. The synopsis is what separates a publisher’s genuine interest and the wastepaper basket. So, to really emphasize this point, we are going to do a little role-playing. Forget about selling to an agent or publisher. Instead, imagine that I’m a pretentious Movie producer – I mean really pretentious. Now try to sell me.
- Don’t tell me the damn plot – I really don’t care.
- Don’t try to entwine me with some intricate, multilayered theme . I have a hooker in the next room waiting for me to snort a line of coke off her ass. STOP WASTING MY TIME.
- Don’t bore me with extraneous detail. My feet are falling asleep.
- Don’t tell me how everyone that has read your book loved it. They’re nobody like you, so bugger off.
The Movie Voice
Write your synopsis like a movie trailer. Imagine the deep voice you hear when watching a movie preview. In a world…blah, blah, blah.
Create your synopsis in that fashion – even test it out by reading it in a mock-movie voice. In that one hundred-fifty word pitch, try to capture the visual and emotional energy of your work. Remember, you’re pretending to sell an obnoxious producer who has the attention span of a gerbil. Make it quick with an impact. Some genres, especially non-fiction, will require you to appeal to the mind rather than emotion, but the way you pitch it should be the same.
Okay…time to stop role-playing. So now you know the secret to writing a brief synopsis. And I don’t mean to cast publishers and agents in a negative light, but I must emphasize the importance of the pitch. They are not as cruel as my role-playing, but they are inundated daily with hundreds of manuscripts flying across their desk. You need to capture their attention quickly before they toss your work in the pile with the others – an act that has become instinctive to them by now.
If you are writing a series, this a good spot to mention the other titles. If you have already started other books, by all means, mention them here. Also disclose any published works, but only if they were paid gigs.
Remember to be mindful of what a publisher/agent is looking for and closely follow their submission guidelines. Don’t be afraid of the Query letter. Be excited, and allow it to be an extension of both your soul and your work.