Sunday, February 11, 2007
Q & A 95
What I am trying to understand in reading the critiques of all these queries is the difference between query material and synopsis. EE and minions seem to ask for more plot, more detail, more, more, more -- but keep it all under 200 words.
One agent, Nathan Bransfeld on his blog, asked to see a full "in ten seconds flat" based on the following. This is the first half of the letter. The rest of the letter is competition and poetry pub credits and a demonstration the writer researched the agent's site. So based on 3 sentences about the story, and a little flattery, the agent bit.
"Sixteen-year-old Hannah's faith was seriously injured by the accident that killed her sister, so when her chance at popularity – senior Will Raditz – moves into the basement, she sets aside following God to fit in with boys, friends, and fashion trends. Eventually, she must decide: is it time to pull the plug on faith? The 67,500 words of my inspirational young adult novel The Boy in the Basement follow Hannah's unique and often humorous journey to the answer of this question."
I have lots of plot and motivation questions after reading that, but it's being held up as an exemplary query. So how much should the query include, and how much should be left for the synopsis to handle? Is querying an agent different from querying an editor? Or, is it all simply a crapshoot anyway?
Evil Editor decided to take a look at the query in question. He Googled Nathan Bransfeld, but Google never heard of him. It asked if I meant Nathan Brandfield. I said, "Umm, maybe."
It said, "Nyaah nyaah, he doesn't exist either. Would you like to try Nathan Hale?"
I said, "No." After shooting in the dark with Branflakes, Brando and Brainfart, I finally struck gold with Bransford.
There's a bit more about the book than those three sentences. There's also: Emily Ever After is similar to my writing in that it represents a Christian who makes mistakes as she struggles to follow her beliefs in a world where it is easier to join the crowd.
Oh, and there's also: You can read the first chapter of The Boy in the Basement on my website, _______________ .
Good luck convincing me the agent requested the full manuscript in ten seconds without a peek at that chapter. (Though I must confess that if I peeked at that chapter, I'd have taken fewer than ten seconds to turn thumbs down--simply because I wouldn't want to slog through a novel written in present tense.)
It is, of course, a crapshoot. If an agent hears that a certain publisher is seeking inspirational teen novels, and this query arrives later that day, it's going to sound more attractive than it would have if he'd just heard that publishers had so many inspirational teen novels lined up, they wouldn't be buying more until 2044.
The query letter is the first sample of your writing that the agent sees. It should demonstrate that you can write effectively, and it should make the agent want to read the book. If you can make someone want to read your book with three sentences, go for it. Odds are against you with EE, but not with everyone. Most of the early queries in the archives include revised versions; you might take a look at a few. Here's a query in which the plot was described in two sentences. EE revised it by adding specificity, but not length. Maybe it would make you want to read the book.
If you're sending a synopsis with your query letter, a brief description of the book is fine. No point in saying the same thing twice. But if you can boil your synopsis down to fit in the body of the query, that's fine too. In fact, it's better. Given the choice between reading one page about your book or two, I think you can guess which way EE would lean.