April, 2010

Query letters-Part 2: The Synopsis

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Hello and welcome back for another installment on my query letter writing “workshop.”  Please remember that all agents are different and what works for me, may not work for you! 
So, now onto the next part of your letter.  They synopsis.  So you’ve drawn in the agent with your hook and they want to keep reading and find out what’s going on with your book.
This is the most difficult part of the letter for me.  Because you want to give the agent enough to realize what the plot is, but not so much you give it all away.  Basically, you want to have a back of the book blurb here. You also want to end this on a hook.  And in this particular synopsis you don’t want to give the ending away.  Make it sweet and simple, yet fascinating. 
Grab the agent’s attention and make them want to read the pages you’ve included or make them want to request them if they only have the query.
However, avoid using rhetorical questions.  Agents tend to frown on it. 
Most people say the synopsis should be no more than a paragraph, but it’s probably okay to have two if you absolutely need it.  Try for one though, if you can.  Remember there’s still more you need to include in letter besides the book stuff, and you only get a page to do it. 
Here’s an example of the synopsis I used for Mirror Image:
After coming home from the hospital, Jackson starts showing up in reflective surfaces — mirrors, puddles, windows, you name it. Lily, fearing others will think she’s crazy, keeps the visions to herself. After all, they’ll just go away if she ignores them, right? Not if Jackson has anything to say about it. And it isn’t long before he convinces her he’s real. The more time she spends staring into her mirror, the more she realizes she’s falling in love with a boy her family and friends insist is nothing more than shadows in her mirror and the hallucinations of her healing head injury.
As you can see that even though my story is written in first person, past tense, the synopsis needs to be in third person, present tense.  Always.  I can’t think of any exception to that rule. 
Also, note there’s a lot of my character’s voice in this.  Lily is funny and a smart alec, but she has a romantic side, too.  Not to mention a bit of stubbornness.  If I’ve done this part right, you can see all this. 
This is what you strive for.  You want to SHOW the agent what your book is about.  If it’s a comedy don’t just say it’s funny.  Show that in your letter.
Okay, tomorrow, the details about your manuscript and personalization.

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Query letter: The Beginning

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As promised here’s day one of my Query letter writing “workshop” for my secret agent contest.  Since it’s the beginning, I figured it was only fitting to talk about beginnings.
Keep in mind there is no secret formula to writing queries, all my knowledge comes from my own writing and what I found worked for me.  Each agent is different, and each agent will want different things.
Also, keep in mind that while you want to catch the agent’s attention, you don’t want to be gimmicky.  Avoid using colored paper, glitter, or sending cookies or anything else with the letter.  It should be just as professional as if you were writing a cover letter for a job interview. 
Margins should be 1” wide all around and the letter should be no longer than one page, single-spaced.  Don’t forget to include your contact information somewhere in your letter.  Usually below your signature.
In normal circumstances, it’s important to do some research before submitting, don’t just carbon copy everyone in the writing business.  Personalize each query to each individual agent and send each query separately.
 Use Query Tracker, absolute write, editors and preditors, and Agent Query to locate, research their preferences, and check into agents.  For the purpose of this contest we’ll just personalize the query letter with Dear Secret Agent:
Now onto the first paragraph.  Some like to say why they’re querying right here, but I don’t agree.  The top of the letter is valuable real estate!  You want to make it as eye catching as possible. And most agents know why you’re querying them.  You want them to offer representation!  
So, I suggest opening your book with your hook. 
Since the query for Mirror Image is what eventually got me my agent (along with the manuscript pages) I’ll use that as an example:
“You’d think imagining a handsome stranger in your rearview mirror, crashing through a guardrail, careening into murky waters, and then being rescued by the same imaginary boy–who gives his name as Jackson–would be bad enough. But for seventeen-year-old LILY BAKER, that’s just the start of her problems.”
As you can see, I only give a little bit of information here, but it’s enough to capture said agent’s attention and hopefully make him/her keep reading. 
That’s the goal here folks, is to make the reader (whomever it may be) to keep reading.
Here’s another example of a hook.  This is one from my new WIP. 
“For EMILY BRIAR the rules are simple: life is short, death is never-ending and absolute, and second chances are almost never given. But when teenagers start walking around without their souls, that’s all about to change.”
Do you see something interesting about the names?  Names in the synopsis and query are in all caps the first time they are mentioned, as is the title of the MS. 
Also, it’s important that you double, even triple check your query for spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors.  Even have another person read it to make sure it’s perfect.  Nothing turns people off like errors in your query and it’s a good way to get an auto-reject.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about the synopsis of the query.

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Secret Agent Contest

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Okay, so here’s how it’s going to work.

    PRIZES:
    First place:  Critique of Full Manuscript
    Second Place:  Critique of the first 50 pages

          Third Place:  Critique of the first 25 pages

There will be a call for submissions. When the call comes, follow the guidelines carefully and submit before the deadline. All submissions will then be posted (anonymously) on the blog, and all readers are invited to leave critiques/feedback. Everyone who has entered the contest is expected to crit a minimum of five entries (and I’m not talking about “Oh this is good, I really like it.”  The biggest point of this contest is for the critiques.  Get as detailed with them as possible.  If it’s good and you can’t see a way to make it better, don’t comment.  Just go onto another that you can help with.  However, IF you really like it, write a comment telling me you’d like to see this query + first 250 move onto the next round).

Our Secret Agent may or may not join the panel of critters (that is, you) and leave feedback for entries (through me).  Then I will narrow down the list to the best twenty-five entries(using a number of factors, including your “votes”).  When the contest has ended, the Secret Agent will choose a winner.

That’s it in a nutshell!

Here are the basic guidelines for each Secret Agent contest:

  • All excerpts submitted to the Secret Agent contest must be a query letter (no more than a page long) and the first 250 words of your COMPLETED manuscript.(VERY IMPORTANT!  The manuscript MUST be completed.)
  • Your submission must include your screen name and the title, genre, and word count of your novel.
  • By emailing your submission to me, you are giving implicit permission to have your work posted and publicly critiqued.
  • No submissions will be accepted prior to the opening of the contest. The maximum number of entries per contest is 25 submissions.
  • Winners of previous contests may not submit the same manuscript in future contests.
  • All contest entrants are required to critique a minimum of five other entries.
  • NO ATTACHMENTS are accepted. Your query and 250 submission must be pasted into the body of your email
  • Make the subject of your email Secret Agent Contest
  • You will receive a confirmation email.  (It may not be right away, but if you’ve made it into the first 25, you will get an email stating I received it and what number you were.)
  • I will not make changes to your query or first 250 after you’ve sent it, so please make sure it’s the best it can be before you send it.
  • Address the agent as Secret agent.
  • Put your query first, separate using the stars (***) and then place your first 250.
  • Email address is secretagentcontest@gmail.com

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    Secret Agent Contest!

    >Starting May 1st I’ll be having you.  Yes you!  Submit to me your query letters to a very special guest!  SECRET AGENT!  From tomorrow on, I’ll be talking about this contest and tips to make those query letters extra great! 

    I’ll post the rules and everything tomorrow, but the grand prize is a…(drum roll please)…FULL REQUEST by the awesome SECRET AGENT! 

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    Writer Wednesday: Blog Contest

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    Okay, so in an effort to give something back to all my wonderful friends (and because I’m so close to reaching 50 followers on my blog and I’d really like to get to 50), I’m giving away a hardcover copy of Narcissus in Chains by Laurell K. Hamilton.

    Rules (because there are always rules):

    1. Math. You must be able to do math ( 😀 ) and let me know how many entries to give you, just comment below.

    2. You must live in the U.S. or Canada.

    3. Last Day for Entry is April 30 and I’ll draw a winner on May 1st.

    Entries:

    One entry for becoming a follower. Two for already being a follower.

    One for mentioning this contest on Twitter, your blog, any other way you feel like doing it. (Maximum of 3 entries this way)

    One entry for becoming my follower on Twitter and two for already being my follower on Twitter.

    Beta readers get an extra entry for everything I’ve put you through.

    One entry for becoming my fan on Facebook; two entries for already being my fan on Facebook.

    Like I said… let me know how many entries to fill out for you.

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