The query letter and the dreaded synopsis (1)

Success tapped early on my window. My first attempt won the Constable Prize for the best first novel from the North of England. That was in 1985 and the book Doves and Silk Handkerchiefs was published in the following year. I had written neither query letter nor synopsis to gain my prize. Subsequent novels were published on the back of that success by the same publisher. Three novels in the bag and never the need to go through hoops which most must jump through to find both agent and publisher. It came as a huge shock when I had to join that great band of literary athletes who must negotiate the hoop strewn course. It took a long while for me to learn the art of assembling the query letter and the dreaded synopsis.

It seems to me that there is a lot of nonsense written about the requirements for each.

Let’s take the query letter first. I think we can all agree that the letter should be short, no more than a single page. An agent’s time is precious so she doesn’t want to be wading through mountains of paper describing unwanted irrelevances. In my view the most important thing is to put something of yourself into the writing of the letter. Give her a clue as to who she is dealing with; you are trying to sell yourself as a creative writer for goodness sake, so show her that you can be creative, and never be crass. However you might describe yourself a light touch is called for – even for those who see themselves as being deadly serious. In a single page you need to:

1. Describe why you have chosen her to represent you ( there is generally bags of information out there) and do be relevant.

2. Your writing experience including any credits you have to your name.

3. The type of book you have written. Don’t repeat the synopsis in the letter, a couple of lines of well-chosen words will be enough.

Don’t be wooden, no need even be business like, but be the human being that you are. Just present yourself.

Next post I shall discuss the synopsis.


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