Thursday, May 04, 2006
Q & A 3 How much detail?
Somewhere, I have absorbed the notion that in the query letter, what one says about the novel should read like a back-cover blurb. Basically, who are the players, what do they want, why, and what is the conflict? I do this in one paragraph in my query. You seem to be seeking more detail than that, details that I would keep for the 'short synopsis'--for instance, the resolution. Are you really looking for an extra-abbreviated short synopsis in the query, or is the blurb enough as long as it tells the who, what, why and why not?
Your ability to distill your entire book into one brief paragraph is admirable. Your literary heroes, no doubt, are screenplay log line writers, who describe a two-hour film in one sentence. But don't forget about title writers. The complete essence of Frank Herbert's 500-page story of political, environmental and economic intrigue is conveyed in the simple word Dune. Stephen King outdid Herbert by half with It. Among the greatest plot distillers in literary history was the guy who determined that only one m needed to be stamped on the side of an m & m. Janice Delaney's legendary query for her history of menstruation, entitled The Curse, consisted of a blank sheet of paper with a period in the center. (This used half as much ink as the previous record, the query for Dr. Jensen's Guide to Better Bowel Care, which was, of course, a colon.)
What Evil Editor looks for first in a query, is an excuse to reject it without reading any of the book. Perhaps the writer ignored our guidelines for length or subject matter. That failing, I look for a query that sounds like it was written by a talented writer. True, there are writers who write decent novels, but lousy queries (I can't tell you how many of Grisham's novels I've rejected because his queries all sound like 4th grade book reports), but for the most part, if the query is disorganized and boring and riddled with errors, the manuscript will be no different. Obviously it's easier to determine the quality of writing if there's more than a paragraph. (More than a page, on the other hand, is going too far--Evil Editor does have a life.)
By the way, the generally accepted definition of a "blurb" is a publicity statement, something along the lines of, "I couldn't put this book down, and I'd be saying that, even if the publisher, who also happens to be my publisher, hadn't asked me to say it, and even if I'd actually found time to read the book." Rule of thumb: Your query should be as long as what would fit on the back of the book if you and the publisher couldn't find a single person unprincipled enough to provide a blurb.