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.


Anonymous said...

EE's Q&A #3 ( ) also addresses this same basic question.

A lot of agents and editors accept "queries only" via email and, because I've been counseled to follow directions precisely lest I give EE the tiny excuse he needs to slam-dunk my query with the delete key, I do not send a synopsis or sample chapters (although I do send a link to a Web page with the first chapter).

So, I guess in my case, the mini synopsis is needed. Although, like the people who asked Q&A #95 and #3, and after reading that EE doesn't want to see more than a page, I'm still a bit in the dark about what's enough and what's not enough.

You stick in plot points, it needs more characterization. You stick in characterization, it needs backstory. You stick in backstory, it needs to define what's going on now, not yesterday. You try to shorten all that by comparing the messaging to another popular book and no one, except for that Nathan guy apparently, wants to see your ms because that book's already been written.

Crapshoot. Good analogy.

none said...

feld, only matters if you can't swim.

Brenda said...

It is just me, or can you guys absolutely see EE talking to his computer?

Glad to know I'm not the only one who does it.

Steph_J said...

The questions you have raised are ones that I struggle with also.

After reading so many blogs and websites on the art of writing a query, I am more confused now than I ever was. I thought I knew the difference between a query and a synopsis; now I’m not so sure. To make matters more confusing, are the examples of “successful” query letters that some agents post for our edification. One example I read didn’t conform to many of the ‘rules’ I have been reading about. The agent explains that, despite the unconventional approach, the query “grabbed” her. That’s nice. Not helpful…but nice.

The query I sent to Evil Editor was one that I wrote for an agent who asked for “books that can hook me on concept alone”. Needless to say, this approach didn’t go over well. But I did learn a lot from Evil Editor and the minions. Some of the feedback I received seemed to echo the words of the form rejection letters that I had already accumulated. The concept of my story was not marketable.

I rewrote the query and sent it off to the remaining agents and independent book publishers on my very short list of those who would accept my type of story. I also targeted agents and publishers that specifically asked for query, synopsis, outline, and sample chapters on initial contact. When I felt that I had exhausted all possibilities, I had to accept that this particular manuscript was never going to be published.

I promised myself when I began this project that I would never self-publish or go through a vanity press. If I couldn’t sell this story, I would just slide it under my bed and begin another one. Once I reached that point, I found it harder to do than I imagined. I wanted my friends and family to be able to read it, and I felt like I needed closure on the project. I researched the different POD publishers and chose one that I felt comfortable with. I never imagined that one day I would be a POD Person, a titled reviled across the traditional publishing industry. I have no illusions that I will recoup the money I paid to have my book published, but I am still content with my decision. I have learned a lot from this entire experience, and hope to be able to apply the lessons to my next book.

Good luck to you,