Query Letter Over Synopsis?


A reaction many of us writers have to the dreaded synopsis. Writing a manuscript is one thing, but it’s an equal challenge attempting to squash it into a one-pager that will rouse the attention of the droopy-eyed publishing assistant skimming through it, who probably wants nothing more than to burn it with the mountainous pile of them growing on his/her desk that week.

And how necessary is it anyway?

At a writers’ festival I attended last year, I asked a panel of publishers what they looked for in a synopsis. Two of them admitted they rarely even read it. Rather, it was the query letter that would persuade them to investigate further. A strong voice; short, sharp and concise with no grammatical errors. If the query letter sparked their interest, they’d turn to the manuscript, perhaps occasionally referring back to the synopsis for guidance.

They all agreed that the query letter needs to show professionalism, an author that has clearly done their research. Different publishers publish different genres and styles, so if you can list a book they have already published that is similar in style to yours, they’ll know you’ve done your homework.

Marcus Sakey claims in a guest post on Writer’s Digest that ‘a properly written query letter should result in at least 75% of agents requesting the manuscript’. 

He goes on to advise, ‘All you’re doing is seducing the agent. You want to get them interested enough that they ask to see your manuscript. That’s it. It’s like online dating. If you can write a charming e-mail, you might get a date; if you get a date, who knows where it could lead. But try to put all your history and baggage in that first message and you won’t get any play. Instead, demonstrate that you’re worth someone’s time. That you are interesting, sincere, and respectful.’ 

To read the entire post, which includes some very helpful specifics of what to include in a query letter, click here

The three most important things I have learned from researching query letters are –

1. No mistakes. If you can’t prepare a polished query letter, what hope have you got of compiling an entire manuscript?

2. Be concise. Publishers are not interested, nor have time for waffle.

3. Be interesting!

This isn’t to say you should now toss your synopsis in the nearest trash bin and wipe your hands chuckling in relief. The synopsis is part of the submission process whether publishers choose to read it or not, but the query letter is just as important if not more so. It’s the first impression they will have of you. Make sure you tailor it specifically to the publisher you’re sending it to. Do your research. Find your voice. Include all the information necessary, but no more than that.

I’ll leave you on a humorous note with a few of my favourites from SlushPile Hell (if you’ve never visited this site, you must!). 

Query Letter: I have a 10,000 word manuscript which i would like to have published. I am trying to find an agent. My goal is to write a sequel to the book. What are my odds of finding an agent?

Agent Response: About the same as E.L. James’s odds of being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Query Letter: You will LAUGH, CRY, STAND UP, AND CHEER! My compelling story raises the bar in human literature.

Agent Response: I don’t know about raising the bar, but it certainly makes me want to go to a bar.

Query Letter: Deer agent, …

Agent Response: For the love of all that’s holy and good in this world, please kill me.

If you have ever had a response to a query letter and want to share it, I’d love to hear about it. Good luck with your submissions.



Filed under The Publishing Industry

2 responses to “Query Letter Over Synopsis?

  1. As I’m just about to dive into this process, this post was a perfect read for me right now. Love the humor of this even as you share some really good tips. In fact, your blog seems full of things that are quite timely for me right now and I’ll definitely be back for more!

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