The Query Letter, Part 2

Pen & Notebook 3Last week we discussed the introductory paragraph of a query letter and defined the difference between an effective and non-effective one.

This week we are going to discuss what is arguably the most difficult part of the query, the dreaded synopsis.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

1. The synopsis you include should be only 1-2 paragraphs, maximum. Any longer than that and you compromise the rest of your query and risk losing the attention of the whichever editor/agent you have reading it.

2. The query synopsis is the place for your book to do the talking. Including only relevant, interesting material and discussing the most important plot points and characters will speak volumes, whereas too much description, too many facts about unimportant side characters and those silly hook questions we discussed in the last segment may just stand to land your query in the bin.

3. Unless your work is non-fiction, the agent/editor does not care why you wrote the book. Beginning your synopsis with a diatribe about your grandmother being English and growing up in Oxford will not impress upon the person you are querying the sentimental importance of why you set the book there. Facts and numbers people. Presentation is everything.

4. Read your query with fresh eyes, as though someone else had sent it to you. Is there any information that seems misplaced or does not need to be there? Are there any awkward sentences that you can trim the fat from and make it flow better?

5. If you lived in a tiny flat where your bathroom, kitchen and bedroom were all basically one space, you would likely be careful not to keep bringing home things you didn’t need. Think of your query letter and more specifically, your synopsis this way. If it doesn’t have a place to fit where the editor won’t trip over it, then don’t include it.

Example of a bad synopsis:

In my book, “the Lost One,” there is a vivid cast of characters with many different events happening in their lives. –This is boring and tells us nothing. No character names, no idea what the events actually are or if they are interesting enough to take a second glance at. At the heart of this story is the struggle of a mother to find her son when her ex-husband kidnaps him and moves him half-way across the world.–Your book and everyone’s. What makes your book stand out? I have seen this before. As more people become involved the chances of Mary finding her son decrease. She learns that her ex-husband had been keeping terrible secrets from her throughout her marriage. How will she ever find Nicholas? What would you do if it were you?–My, my, my. What a mess. “As more people,” who are those people and why are they relevant? Her ex-husband was keeping secrets, okay–but how does that play into the story? The the questions–the editor is not here to be your beta reader. They are not here to revel in your shocking, big finish. They want to know if they can sell your work. Will the plot generate enough interest for a good blurb that will make people pull out the wallet? What would I do if it were me? Toss your query in the bin and move on to another.

Example of a better query letter:

Mary Ralston’s life has collapsed.–Cool, cool. Now I want to know why. First, she discovered that her husband of ten years, David, had been carrying on an affair and was involved in illegal activities throughout their marriage, which has caught the attention of the feds.–Oooh, what kind of illegal activities? After a messy divorce and custody battle, she sends her nine-year-old son, Nicholas, with David for a court-ordered weekend of visitation. They never return. –What? Where did they go?

As the local and international authorities become further involved, Mary must deal with unwanted media attention and the grief of not knowing where her son is or if he is even alive.–I’m a mum, my heart is breaking. As the secrets of her ex-husband’s life are exposed and more evidence comes to light, one thing is startlingly clear…it is hard to track down someone you know that doesn’t wish to be found. It is even harder when it is someone you don’t know at all.–Good line there, made me think. “The Lost One” is complete and ready for review. –If I want to find out what happens, I can. This is not a partial MS.

Next week, we shall cover the third part of the query–the author bio.

In case you missed last week, here is the first part of this series:

14 thoughts on “The Query Letter, Part 2”

  1. Thanks for putting this together. 🙂 I like the bathroom analogy. (Someday, you should write a post on how the blurb is different from the synopsis, and how to make it effective… You have very good points here for the synopsis.)


  2. Thanks Ionia. Thses are most helpful. I didn’t even consider doing query letters to appeal to an agent with my last book as I was going the self pub route, but who knows, I may do things differently in the future.


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