There are three things an agent or editor might require from you – a query letter, synopsis, and/or proposal. As important as your novel is, these documents will grab an editor’s attention and introduce her to your story. If she likes what she reads, you get to send your manuscript. If not … well, it doesn’t matter how well you write. If you can’t get someone to read your book, it won’t get published.
1. The Query: Unless you’re fortunate enough to meet an agent or editor, you’ll definitely need to write a query letter. This is a business letter. It needs to be professionally formatted, written, and presented. Whether mailed or e-mailed, this is not the time for cutesy fonts or wording. It’s your cover letter – if it’s not professional (and flawless), no one will look at your resume.
Your query needs to include these three major components:
– Your hook: Briefly tell what your story is about.
– Book info: Genre, length, comparable novels, etc.
– Your credentials: Writing experience, bylines, applicable education, affiliations
2. The Synopsis: These vary in length and format. Pay attention to what each editor wants. In a sentence, the synopsis tells what your story is about, not how things happen (i.e. not all subplots need mentioning). Make sure to:
– Format properly: 3 or 10 pages? Single or double spaced? Do whatever the agents asks.
– Write well: Hook, active verbs, show don’t tell – the same care that goes into your novel goes into your synopsis
– Present tense: regardless of the tense of your novel, the synopsis is in the present
– No loose ends: Will she survive? Can they make it? Your synopsis should answer these questions, not bring them up.
3. The Proposal: According to Peter Rubie, a proposal is “a description of, and sample of a proposed book. It’s primarily a sales and marketing tool – for you, and for your book. It needs to be focused, accompanied by supporting materials, and, above all, dynamic.”
Jeff Gerke from Where The Map Ends outlines a fiction book proposal as such:
- A cover letter
- One page with:
- A very brief (~10-word) hook
- A short (~100-word) blurb
- The title of your novel
- The genre of your novel
- The length (in wordcount!) of your novel
- The audience for your novel (age, gender, etc.)
- Whether or not the novel fits into a series
- Your previously published books (if any) and the to-date total sales of each
- A 1-2-page synopsis that does give away the ending
- One page with anything else you think is pertinent: short bio on you, historical note, personal experience that undergirds the story, reason for special timeliness, one-paragraph summaries of other books in the series, etc.
- The first 30-40 pages of your novel (sample chapters)
Before you put any time into any of these things, find out what you agent/editor wants. Web sites usually have submission guidelines, and they’ll tell you exactly what to send. Some sites will even recommend books or lessons on how to write queries, synopses, and proposals. There are dozens of options out there, so you have no excuse for not submitting a first class document.
Where did you learn to draft your query/synopsis/proposal?