My Stumbling Block

The Cursed Query Letter and Synopsis

The one thing I think that would have surprised me to learn, that no one talks about until you finish writing your book, is that writing the book is actually the easy part.

I often ask myself, what is the one thing you wish you knew before starting this journey and honestly, that is it. Writing the thing is the easy part – no matter how hard that part happened to be.

You carved a hole in your chest. You wept. There were blood and guts and probably sweat. Sleepless nights, angst-filled days. But at the end of the day, all of that was within your control.

The hard part, believe it or not, is the next part. Putting it out in the world.

You just finished this monolith. You should be proud! You need to take a moment and celebrate your accomplishment.

Once you come down from the adrenaline high you have an interesting challenge ahead. How now to distill your work down into something bite-sized and comprehensible for someone to decide if they want to represent it/you in the big bad world?

You write a query letter and synopsis.  Don’t know what a query letter is? Don’t feel bad. Neither did I. 

Your query letter is a letter by which you introduce both yourself and your Work in Progress (WIP) to the potential agent or publisher.

“Hi Person, I’m______. I wrote BLAH. It’s the story of _____. Pick me cuz I___. Chat soon! Signed, Me”

All of the advice with regard to writing a query letter tells you to keep it short and sweet. That is basically the only thing all of the places you go to for advice will agree upon.

As for your synopsis, well, you take your pièce de résistance – your 100 thousand word baby and you sum it up in 500 to 800 words.

“Yeah, right!” you might think.  Sadly, I’m serious. And as you can well imagine my friends, this was my major stumbling block.

The instructions to complete this next task were as easy as:

Get the point. Don’t give away the ending. Give away the ending. Make comparisons to current TV Shows or books, but don’t over-reach. Make it concise. Make it descriptive. Sell yourself. Make sure your personality shines through. Make it bland. Make sure your writing style is evident. 

Needless to say, it was a gobble-dee-goop of information that led me to write something that was less than stellar. I knew it was, but unfortunately, I didn’t know how to fix it, or really, if it truly needed fixing. The only thing I knew that I was not getting much if any traction with my manuscript.

The thing about that is, I didn’t know where to lay that blame, so I didn’t know what to fix. Primarily because when most agents or publishers reject your work, they don’t give you feedback as to why. 

Luckily, I am a member of a writing group called the Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) and they hold an event every year called the Blue Pencil Bonanza, wherein members are invited to submit work for critique and to receive feedback in various categories like Dialogue, building intimacy, and Screenwriting from fellow writers and mentors.

This year I submitted to the Query and Synopsis group and I am grateful I did. I knew I needed someone to help me with this aspect and I was lucky enough to have 3 published authors in my group to assist.

Receiving criticism, even when it is constructive and positive, can be difficult. It is definitely something I have to work on, but I think I took in what they were saying with an open and curious mind. It was a fantastic opportunity to hear from people who had not read the WIP indicate what worked and what didn’t; to get perspective on what could be changed and things that could be included that I hadn’t thought about at all.

With the information I received from them, I feel I can now get my query letter and synopsis back on track and to draw the interest of a potential agent or publisher.

So, my two-cents worth of advice to you, my friend, is this:

Once you have spilled your guts on the floor and are able to step back and say, “The End”, do your level best to write a query letter that a)introduces your book, including your word count, then b) move on to your description of the book – the sexy selling feature highlights of the plot – the hook, if you will, and finally c) tell them a bit about you (I’m previously published and I won all these awards -Yay me!).

Then write your synopsis. You will probably have to do this a couple of times to bring the word count down. Remember to CAPITALIZE NAMES of characters when they are first introduced and if a character does not need to be named in the synopsis, don’t bog it down with secondary characters. Stick to the main plot and only include secondary plot lines that directly impact how the main plot plays out. When you have completed that task, read it a couple of times to see if your writing style is shining through. If it isn’t, try to spice it up a bit, but stay true to the tone of the book.

Once this exercise is complete, hand it off to someone you trust who has not read your WIP and will not be mad at you for ruining the ending. If this person is confused about plot points take their notes and go back to the drawing board. Chances are if they are confused, an agent or publisher will be too.

Patience and persistence will get you through this part. I know I am still in this murky section, but I firmly believe, with the guidance I have received, I can get these two very important elements into a better, more presentable state, and with that, my WIP will be in a better position to find a home.

I hope I was able to shed a little bit of light on this issue. I know it has been a huge stumbling block for me, so my advice to you is to keep at it!

You have a story to tell and somewhere out in the world, there is a person dying to read it. Let’s get it in their hands!

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