I also found her article on Slam-dunk Submissions worth repeating. See if you don't agree. ~ Donnell
Sure, a slam-dunk is hard to learn in writing as in basketball, but once you've mastered it, you can really rack up the score. And, just as in learning to shoot baskets, learning to write queries is a simple skill that takes practice. I set out to discover a submission playbook. Here's one that everybody can use to beat the odds.
The Query Letter - one page/4 paragraphs; your voice/no fluff
The first and most important thing to remember is that a query letter has one purpose - to get the reader to ask for more. That's it. Anything that diverts attention from your purpose is irrelevant.
- Write to the right person. The biggest complaint I heard from agents and editors was that would-be authors didn't do their research. Now, you spent a year or more writing the book; spend a few more weeks researching who might publish it.
- Make it look good. This means neat formatting; letter-perfect. Any imperfection is a red-flag that signals you're an amateur. Even if you are a newbie, there's no excuse for looking like one.
- Use good quality, white paper.
- A standard font in 11 or 12-point - and a laser printer.
- This is a letter - single-spaced with 1" margins and paragraph indents.
- Header for your contact information. If you have spare cash, invest in letterhead.
- Don't forget the date and the full recipient address.
- Book titles are ALL CAPS.
- If you can afford it, send it FedEx or Priority Mail, but do NOT require a signature. Those cardboard envelopes really do get more attention.
- A word about e-mail. Unless an agent/editor specifically requests e-mail submissions, use snail mail; it has more"heft." If you query by e-mail and use an attachment, use RTF because there are too many versions of MS Word. Your document may not open or the formatting may be skewed.
- Want a reply? Include the SASE. If you don't want one, why'd you send the letter? Apparently, a lot of writers skip this?
- Use the Four Paragraph structure. One Page!
- The Introduction. A short description of genre and word-count - one book only. Add a quick, compelling reference as to why you chose this recipient. End the paragraph with a five-to-ten word "tag line" that summarizes your story in a way that is true to the style and tone.
- A Brief Summary of the Plot. Three or four sentences. Remember specificity sells. Include the setting, time-frame, theme and the structure of your plot. If there are good analogues of your story, style or characters in movies or literature, include them. Do not name names; it just confuses the reader. Subplots are irrelevant. Once you have this central paragraph written, try it out on three or four people who do not know what your book is about. See if they "get" it. Then, read it aloud. How do you feel about it? Does it capture your tone and voice?
- The author biography. This should be very short. In general, personal stuff is irrelevant. If you have writing credits, remember to put the book titles in caps and magazine articles in stories in italics so speed-reading assistants get the point right away. Include awards, workshops, MFA programs, and potential endorsements.
- The courteous close. When the request for a partial, or (hurray!), a full manuscript, arrives, send it - Fed Ex. If you wait even a week or two, the reader may have forgotten what it was they liked about your query. Include a copy of your original query letter along with a photocopy of the agent/editor's request so your manuscript cannot go astray. And, send exactly what was requested. Top it all with a short, polite cover letter.
The synopsis is a mini-novel - the bare bones of the plot with the fleshy emotional development intact. Scratch minor characters and subplots. Now that you've just stripped your 400-page book into two pages, remember that the synopsis needs to be gripping, not dry. Imagine you're telling someone to go see a movie you just loved - what would you sound like? That much personality and enthusiasm needs to come across.
The synopsis should be written in the same voice and style as your book. If there is a theme, it should resonate. Describe the setting and then introduce your main characters - heroine first. The first time you use a character's name, put it in ALL CAPS. Make sure your summary captures what makes them empathetic. Why do we want them to live happily ever after. Now, throughout the plot, what drives them and what obstacles stand in their way? For most of what we write, there will be layers to the goals and conflicts - internal and external. Those nuances should be clear. Here, it is very effective to use short telling quotes from your book.
Just as when you wrote the book, you used hooks to keep the reader engaged. Each paragraph of your synopsis needs an arc and a hook. For two pages, you will describe every major scene and turning point, demonstrating the effect it has on the emotions and motivations of your main characters.
Once you're done, edit. Did you resolve all the conflicts? Remember you must include the conclusion. Once you think you have your synopsis complete, edit until you see the story clearly.
- Write to the wrong person.
- Write long. Agents and editors are looking for people who use the language well. In today's fast-paced world, that means tight, efficient prose.
- Pitch more than one book.
- Bloat your credentials.
- Waste space. Of course you're asking for consideration or representation.
- Don't wait. If you don't hear back within a month, query someone else.
- Don't include sample pages unless requested.
- Don't be coy. No gifts; no gimmicks.
- Don't ignore directions.
- Never apologize. A killer sentence might be "I know I'm new to this but..."